Beyoncé Was Wrong About This Word
If you’ve ever played Dungeons & Dragons or listened to Destiny’s Child, chances are likely that you have heard the words bugbear and bugaboo. For the D&D players of the world, a bugbear is a hairy, giant-like goblin. For Destiny’s Child fans, a bugaboo is a particularly annoying boy who just won’t stop calling you (or paging you, or showing up to your house unannounced). These definitions aren’t exactly what the words were used for back when they first came into existence during the Middle Ages. In fact, both bugbear and bugaboo have interesting backstories that involve our childhood nemesis, the bogeyman.
- An ongoing problem; a recurring obstacle or adversity.
- A source of dread; resentment; or irritation
- An imaginary creature meant to inspire fear in children.
Though linguists can’t be certain on exactly where the word bogey originated, they all agree that it originally existed as a proper name for the Devil. Scary, right? It’s no wonder, then, that parents began telling their children stories of the bogeyman coming to get them when they didn’t do their chores or go to bed on time or whatever it is that children got reprimanded for in the Middle Ages. At some point, the rhetoric around the bogeyman changed, and instead of becoming a creature that would take children who didn’t go to bed on time, it became the bugbear who would get you if you tried to sneak out at night. As the word might suggest, a bugbear was a bear-like imaginary creature also meant to incite fear in children (and teens). Today, a bugbear isn’t so much a creepy creature or giant-like goblin but a word that represents an ongoing problem; a recurring obstacle or adversity. Some might consider a bugbear to be getting politicians to agree on legislation for public school funding, for example. Alternatively, a bugbear can represent a source of dread, resentment, or irritation. Many Americans, for example, consider doing their taxes a real bugbear.
- An imaginary object of fear
- Something that causes fear or distress out of proportion to its importance
While bugbear is a popular term in Europe, in North America the more popular word is bugaboo and usually refers to a dreadful imaginary object than a creature. In this instance, it turns out that Destiny’s Child got it wrong. When you think about it, that guy who just won’t stop calling you is more of a bugbear than a bugaboo—the guy the girls are singing about is definitely real. If we took Destiny’s Child’s use of bugaboo in the literal sense, it seems like Beyoncé et al. are totally overreacting to the bogeyman instead of protecting their very important personal spaces. Also, once you learn the definition of bugaboo, it makes it hard to look at that cute line of baby accessories that also bears the name quite the same way. Is strolling your baby suddenly an activity that causes fear or distress out of proportion to its importance (the importance being getting your baby from point A to point B)? Is your baby just an imaginary object of fear? I’d like to think not.
So, while the two words are similarly defined (and often appear as synonyms of each other), be careful to make sure you’re using the word with the right definition. Even Beyoncé can lead us astray sometimes.