When I was doing the word of the week last week, I used the word ‘bugbear’. And then I realised that I don’t actually know where the word ‘bugbear’ comes from. You know what it means: it’s a thing that’s annoying (although having looked it up in the dictionary, it actually means a thing that causes obsessive anxiety – so a thing that’s REALLY annoying). But the etymology itself is interesting (not an oxymoron).
A bugbear’s a mythological type of hobgoblin used by parents to frighten naughty children. The name comes from the Middle English word ‘bugge’ which means a frightening thing (there are also similar words in old Welsh and Scottish – ‘bwg’ and ‘bogill’), and it’s probably where the more well-known term ‘bogeyman’ comes from. In a 1565 Italian play called ‘The Buggbear’, it was a bear that lurked in the forest to frighten those poor kiddies again. Scary.