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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. H. Sayce   28 July 1877

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

July 28/77

Dear Sir,

It would be a great pleasure to me to give you any information, but I dare not trust my memory after so long an interval. In my little paper I have given only facts which were recorded at the time.1 My impression however is that “mum” arose from opening & shutting the mouth repeatedly as a sign of wanting to eat, for this movement makes a sound like the letter m. I feel sure that several of the consonants (m, b & d being excepted) were much more difficult for my children to utter correctly than the vowels. I can only repeat my regret that I cannot aid you in your very interesting investigation.

I remain, dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Charles Darwin


Sayce had asked CD to expand on comments he made in ‘Biographical sketch of an infant’ (see letter from A. H. Sayce, 27 July 1877).


‘Biographical sketch of an infant’: A biographical sketch of an infant. By Charles Darwin. Mind 2 (1877): 285–94. [Shorter publications, pp. 409–16.]


Thinks "mum" comes from shutting the mouth repeatedly as a sign of wanting to eat.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Archibald Henry Sayce
Sent from
Source of text
Bodleian Libraries, Oxford (MS. Eng. lett. d. 63, fols. 51–2)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11077,” accessed on 22 September 2021,