Printable Version
Pronunciation: bêg-ê-bu Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Something frightening or threatening.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a member of a family of semantically related words that are probably historically related, too, including bugbear, bogy, bogyman and regional boogerman. Though there are slight differences in the meanings of these terms, the B and G are hardly coincidental in all these words.

In Play: Often we find bugaboos around the house: "I hesitate to clean up the basement for fear of what bugaboos might lurk there in all the clutter." However, basements are not the only place where bugaboos lurk: "Rising home prices in the US raise the specter of that old economic bugaboo: inflation."

Word History: Today's Good Word is probably a corruption of bugbear under the influence of Boo!, an interjection expressed to frighten others. (It may also have been helped along by Old French Beugibus, the name of a demon, today's English Beelzebub.) Bug originally meant "ghost, hobgoblin" in English. It originated in Welsh bwg (pronounced bug) "ghost, goblin". This word probably descended from the same root that provided Russian bog and Polish bóg "god", another kind of ghost. The bugs that haunt computers did not originate in a moth that died in a Harvard computer in 1947, as is widely claimed. It more probably came from the bug in bugaboo, a hobgoblin. In any event, it was first recorded in an 1889 article in the Pall Mall Gazette referring to an unexpected defect or bug in Thomas Edison's phonograph. The word subsequently came to refer to disquieting insects, which is how it is most often used today. (In order to avoid any bugaboo of omission, let's thank Mark Bailey right now for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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