Mulligan n. surname, from Gaelic Maolagan, Old Irish Maelecan, a double diminutive of mael “bald,” hence “the little bald (or shaven) one,” probably often a reference to a monk or disciple.
As “stew made with whatever’s available,” 1904, hobo slang, probably from a proper name.
The golf sense of “extra stroke after a poor shot” (1949) is sometimes said to be from the name of a Canadian golfer in the 1920s whose friends gave him an extra shot in gratitude for driving them over rough roads to their weekly foursome at St. Lambert Country Club near Montreal.
(Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper)
Actually, the extra shot wasn’t given in gratitude so much as just given according to this story, after Mr. Mulligan gives himself a do-over and expects the other men to just shut up about it.
Men, I knew early, expect to be forgiven for just about everything. They don’t always need to be thanked, but they do need to be forgiven always and immediately. They make mistakes constantly because they are human, I learned, and so they’re just like you and I, but unlike you and I they pay for everything by working hard and exhausting themselves to keep food on your plate and comic books in your hands. If they lose their tempers now and then, they should be forgiven as soon as they’re done yelling. Hugged if possible. Praised for their sacrifices and their tireless work keeping it all together, for having given up on their own dreams to sail around the world or backpack through Europe or have a quiet horse farm just outside of town. It seemed to help if you finally admitted that you in fact were at fault to have even mentioned what they’d done wrong and so upset them. Men were incredibly fragile that way, I understood, and couldn’t take much emotional pressure. Even if it seemed like the truth. Sometimes their hands were shaky after the long drive home from work; sometimes they were irritable after a long day, an awful month, a disappointing year. A disappointing dinner could be the last straw. Or a request to do something at home too. Or wrong tone of voice. Men worked hard for all of us, I was taught, and we should curb ourselves in order to show our appreciation of their efforts. They were trying, for God’s sake, to keep everybody happy, I remember, and that should matter, that should count. Jesus Christ, all they wanted was to come home and relax and not be nagged about things, I heard. Couldn’t we just shut up sometimes? It’s just a mistake. Fuck.
Here’s an example of a recent mulligan.
Men made mistakes, I knew. But they were owed too some consideration. Come on. My own father embezzled money from his business, even after he sold it finally to a bigger company and stayed on as manager. My mother, who did the accounts for years, made it plain to anyone at the home office who could read exactly what my father was doing. No one said a thing, she told me. No one even cared, she said, which is about when she decided she’d had enough of a Mulligan world. He’d lost thousands and thousands on off-track betting. He’d had affairs, she believed. They fought loudly and it could get violent, physical. I learned early to walk downstairs and yell at them to stop when my father mentioned the gun in the closet. Then as he wept in abject self-pity, begging me to tell him that I loved him, I would do that. I would perform the son’s sacred right to give his father a mulligan. Let’s try that again. I put on the face of infinite patience for a long time. Then one day I realized I could do that at the same time I could wish him dead. I often see the same look on politicians’ children’s faces.
Questions for the men’s club:
How many mulligans do you give until you tell your golfing partner it’s not a game anymore? How many mulligans until it stops being a joke? How many mulligans per round until there is nothing finally to say at the club later? And the relationship becomes, like the soup of the same name, something made of scraps and whatever’s left? At what point do you stop calling?
Conversely, how many mulligans until Mulliganism becomes a way of life, a way around potential pain or embarrassment or, as in the case of a wealthy father, the disaster of dis-inheritance? Maybe, if my father had made more money, we might have Mulliganed him a lot more, stuck it out, stayed true to an investment portfolio which he represented. How many relationships are made of just such long-term strategies, treating the cruel father, the racist grandfather, the violent son as bumblers who need a second-chance? That seems the more pervasive American strategy to me. Growing up, I would say there wasn’t a single adult male in my small-town that I trusted not to lose his temper. Many of them were good men, I knew. But that was also a world without psychology really. Social work meant bringing a cake over to a neighbor if they’d had a tragedy and saying absolutely nothing about a sudden black eye. My mother once tried a therapist who actually told her to go back and try again, so she gave up on that route. There was no other way for people like us to get through life, I saw very quickly, than starting over again and again, hoping this time would be different, an endless Groundhog Day of Mulligans.
Which is where at least 40% of Americans are with this president and the Republicans in Congress, without anything else to do but keep saying let’s give him yet another chance. Maybe this time he won’t cheat on us. Maybe this time he won’t lie to our faces.