Printable Version
Pronunciation: bêg Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An insect of any kind or creature resembling one. 2. A disease or cause thereof, as 'the flu bug'. 3. A glitch or defect, as 'a design bug'. 4. An obsession or enthusiasm, as 'the bicycling bug'. 5. Secret information, as 'put a bug in someone's ear'. 6. A hidden listening device, as 'plant a bug in someone's room'.

Notes: This word long ago became a verb with as many meanings as the noun: "to pester, annoy", "to leave hurriedly", "to remove bugs", and "to plant a bug (in sense 5 above)". The verb offers some chance of derivational family. Bugger may refer to someone who plants bugs, but the dialectal variants buggard and buggart both mean "specter, goblin".

In Play: The meanings following the first one are all metaphorical variants that have sped off in different directions. In the sense of "glitch", we find expressions like this: "It took a month to find the bug in Ferdi's computer program." In the sense of "obsession" we could hear something like this: "Ferdi got the computing bug when he was just thirteen years old."

Word History: Etymologists can't figure out where this word came from even though bugs are things with bad connotations and words with bad meanings that resemble it abound: bogey(man), bogle, bugger(man), bugaboo, boggard, all referring to something scary. Middle English bugge meant "scary ghost". It had a variant bogge which today is bogey. Bug apparently emerged from the same source as these. The question is: how did the reduction of size in the meaning occur? There is an urban legend that bug referring to a glitch emerged in 1947. According to this story, Grace Hopper, a computer scientist and naval officer, traced an error in the Mark II computer to a moth trapped in a relay. We even have a report of the incident with the moth taped to it. Unfortunately, Thomas Edison beat Hopper to this use of our word by a wide margin. According to the Pall Mall Gazette in 1889: "Mr. Edison, I was informed, had been up the two previous nights discovering 'a bug' in his phonograph . . . ." (We all need to give Bryan Goff a bow for his recommendation of today's Good Word, which has already aroused a lively conversation in the Suggestion Shop.)

Dr. Goodword,

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