Taken literally, a mug shot should be a picture of a cup with a handle. But instead it’s a picture of a criminal.  The word mug, as in a drinking vessel, came from Scandinavia.  In Swedish it’s mugg, and in Norwegian it’s mugge.

It was first used to mean a face in the early 1700’s.  It probably came from the grotesque faces that you’ve no doubt seen adorning a mug.  To mug someone originally meant to strike someone in the face.  Often this was accompanied by stealing their valuables, and so it took on that meaning as well.  So that’s how a mug shot became a mug shot.  A mug is an unpleasant looking face, and nobody ever looks that pleasant after being picked up by the police.


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