Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Daily Hump: The Bogeyman

Happy Halloween. I thought I'd start things off with a Cornish prayer:
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties
And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!
The Cornish language, today only spoken by about 3,500 people, is of the Brythonic group of Celtic languages along with Welsh and Breton. It is generally believed that from this group we find the etymology of our modern day bogeyman. Specifically, bogey may be a cognate of the Welsh bwgwl, meaning "terror, terrifying". As Michael Quinion observes
The Welsh root word bwg gave rise to the long-obsolete word bug for a hobgoblin, which now survives only in bugbear, a dreadful bearlike apparition that ate naughty children, a more terrifying idea than the modern weakened sense of something merely vexatious or annoying. Another closely related word is bugaboo. Possibly also related is the barghest, a goblin which appeared in the form of a large, black dog and which portended doom...
This obsolete form, bug, is related to the Middle English bugge, a frightening specter, which is ultimately the source of the modern bogey, also sometimes spelled bogy. Bogey is a quasi-proper name that often refers to the devil. The OED noted that in an 1887 survey older people remembered hearing the word in this form as far back as 1825 although written evidence only goes back as far as 1836-1840.

Wikipedia lays out a few alternate theories of the Bogeyman's etymology including:
...a reference to Napoleon Bonaparte, who was nicknamed "Boney" by the British. Boney was certainly used as a threat to British children of the time, and it is claimed that Boney became Boneyman, which became Bogeyman.

It may also have been derived from the Bugis people of Indonesia, feared pirates who preyed on shipping in the Straits of Malacca. According to this latter theory, European sailors who encountered them took their tales back to the Old World, telling stories of the "bugismen" to scare their children into behaving.

Still other sources trace the etymology through "boggy man" back to the bog men found from time to time preserved out in the peat bogs. According to this story, the fear was that the bog men would come walking off the moors like zombies.
In addition to haunting the bedrooms of children, the bogeyman made his presence known on many a golf course where bogey originally meant "the number of strokes a good player may be reckoned to need for the course or for a hole" (since the 1940s bogey has meant a score of one stroke over par for a hole). The OED quotes the following annecdote:
One popular song at least has left its permanent effect on the game of golf. That song is ‘The Bogey Man’. In 1890 Dr. Thos. Browne, R.N., the hon. secretary of the Great Yarmouth Club, was playing against a Major Wellman, the match being against the ‘ground score’, which was the name given to the scratch value of each hole. The system of playing against the ‘ground score’ was new to Major Wellman, and he exclaimed, thinking of the song of the moment, that his mysterious and well-nigh invincible opponent was a regular ‘bogey-man’. The name ‘caught on’ at Great Yarmouth, and to-day ‘Bogey’ is one of the most feared opponents on all the courses that acknowledge him (1908 M.A.P. 25 July 78/1).
And in case you were curious (I was) boogies (also known as boogers, rhinolith or dried snot) first appeared in American slang dictionaries in the 1890s, suggesting its use in common parlance much much earlier. Alas, whether they have anything to do with the bogeyman is anyone's guess.

Stay tuned for later in the week when I hump hobgoblins, jack-o'-lanterns and bugaboos.

Labels: , , , ,

:: posted by David, 8:17 AM


Add a comment