Hugger-mugger

The primary meaning is clandestinely. The secondary meaning is disorderly, in a slovenly manner. To hugger is to lie in ambush, from the Danish hug, huger, huggring, to squat on the ground; mugger is the Danish smug, clandestinely, whence our word smuggle.

The king in Hamlet says of Polonius: “We have done but greenly in hugger-mugger to inter him” —i.e. to smuggle him into the grave clandestinely and without ceremony.

Sir T. North, in his Plutarch, says: “Antonius thought that his body should be honourably buried, and not in hugger-mugger” (clandestinely).

Ralph says:

While I, in hugger-mugger hid,
Have noted all they said and did.

Butler: Hudibras, iii. 3.

Under the secondary idea we have the following expressions: He lives in a hugger-mugger sort of way; the rooms were all hugger-mugger (disorderly).

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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