[Ads-l] "Bugger"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jul 11 19:51:36 UTC 2016

The OED has an entry for "bugger" that appears to show a transition
from a pejorative to non-pejorative sense. I think the 1881 citation
shows "bugger" being used without a negative connotation in

[Begin excerpt]
bugger, n.1
. . .
2. b. In low language a coarse term of abuse or insult; often,
however, simply = ‘chap’, ‘customer’, ‘fellow’. Cf. baggage n. 7.

So in French: ‘Bougre..terme de mépris et d'injure, usité dans le
langage populaire le plus trivial et le plus grossier’. (Littré.)

1715   T. D'Urfey in Pill to purge State-melancholy 11   From every
Trench the bougers fly.

1854   M. J. Holmes Tempest & Sunshine 203   ‘If I'd known all you
city buggers was comin' I'd a kivered my bar feet’.

1881   S. Evans Evans's Leicestershire Words (new ed.) (at cited
word),   ‘Mister, can ye fit this canny little bugger wi' a cap?’ said
a mother to a shop~keeper of her little boy.
[End excerpt]

Below is an 1867 example in a U.S. newspaper which acknowledged
another U.S. newspaper. A comical epitaph with the word "bugger' was
ascribed to a "son of Erin". So the source might be considered Irish,
but the location in the "Detroit Free Press" indicated that U.S.
readers of the period could decode the humor.

Date: March 24, 1867
Newspaper: Detroit Free Press
Newspaper Location: Detroit, Michigan
Article: A New Version of Snow-Bound (From the Leavenworth Commercial, 16th)
Quote Page 2, Column 3


[Begin excerpt]
That said Christian would he like the son of Erin, who had inscribed
upon his tomb that expressive epitaph. Seeing a neighbor's epitaph, he
resolved to exceed that, and when one tomb had above it 'Here I lie,
as snug as a bug in a rug,' the other had on his, 'Here I lie, as
snugger than that other bugger.'"
[End excerpt]


On Mon, Jul 11, 2016 at 3:45 PM, Peter Reitan <pjreitan at hotmail.com> wrote:
> When I was young in the Midwest in the '60s, we used the word, "bugger," "little bugger" and such in that manner.  Pronounced, Bugger - like bus.  When we meant "booger," we pronounced it like book.
> A quick look at chroniclingamerica shows an indication of possibly similar or related usage in the United States in the 1870s/80s.
> In 1885, regarding a performance at a gymnasium, someone said, "'You little bugger, you!' Why so silent? Don't forget the balloon act on Wednesday night."
> In 1881, a one-line joke in an Ohio paper wondered, "As a little bug grows does he become a little bigger or a little bugger."
> In 1880, an old time '49er miner was known as, "Little Bugger" in Arizona.
> In 1879, during a flood in Idaho, the locals "worked like buggers to prevent the bridge from being carried away."
> In 1878, during a badger fight in Idaho, a man was heard encouraged his favorite by saying, "go it you bugger".
> In 1877, an advertisement warned that, "as the warm weather approaches we may look out for the buggers" (meaning bedbugs and fleas).
> In 1873, an article about the Apache in Arizona mentioned that a certain local Indian was a good man, who helped find bad Indians; a second local Indian, however, was "a destructive bugger."
> Derived from "bug"? from "humbugger"?, which would bring it back to England, but in a different way?
>> Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2016 19:06:53 +0000
>> From: byagoda at UDEL.EDU
>> Subject: Re: "Bugger"
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       "Yagoda, Ben" <byagoda at UDEL.EDU>
>> Subject:      Re: "Bugger"
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Does anyone have any insight, citations, or data concerning
> American non-profane use of “bugger” (noun), as a
> mildly affectionate, mildly derisive diminutive, term,
> something like “rascal”? It goes pretty far back.
> In The American Language, (I’m quoting from 4th edition, 1936),
> Mencken writes, “When I was a small boy my father used it often,
> as an affectionate term for any young male, and if it shows
> any flavor of impropriety today, the fact must be due to
> British influence.”
> In Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), George and Martha’s never-seen child is often referred to as “the bugger” or “the little bugger.”
> Ben
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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