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Something minging is foul-smelling, or just disgusting. “This milk’s been in the fridge for a month — it’s completely minging!”

Applied to a person it may refer to poor hygiene or some other disgusting habit, or it may mean only that they are very, very ugly — so ugly, the speaker suggests, that just looking at them is like experiencing a bad smell. In the latter case the person might also be described as a “minger.”

“Minger” may be mildly sexist, in that it is more often used to describe women, but it is quite commonly used of men, too.

A “ming" is a bad smell: “Open the window, there’s a horrible ming in here.” The verb “ming,” to smell rank, is less common and seems to be a back-formation from “minging” and “minger.” Finally, “minging” is occasionally used to mean simply very drunk.

These words, which are quite recent (they have been current since about 1990), are of Scottish origin, from an earlier word “ming,” referring to excrement. Its lineage is unclear, but it may have come from a word describing a tarlike mixture formerly smeared on sheep to protect them from parasites, from a Germanic root meaning “to mix” (related to “mingle”).

Mark Wainwright is a freelance writer living in Cambridge. Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at: uknews@estripes.osd.mil

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