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See also: bug-bear


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From obsolete meaning of bug (something terrifying) +‎ bear.[1][2] See Middle English bugge, modern bogey.



bugbear (plural bugbears)

  1. An ongoing problem; a recurring obstacle or adversity.
    Synonym: pet peeve
    • 1940 November, O. S. M. Raw, “The Rhodesia Railways—I”, in Railway Magazine, page 592:
      Stone ballast is now used throughout the main line, and has the additional advantage of eliminating the previous bugbear of dust.
    • 1962 January, “Talking of Trains: Hull's level crossing problem”, in Modern Railways, page 10:
      Level crossings are the bugbear of railway operation at Hull. There are no fewer than 16 within the city boundary.
    • 2021 December 18, “The billionaire battle for the metaverse”, in The Economist[1], ISSN 0013-0613:
      Next, they operate in constrained worlds. Apple is a particular bugbear for Mr Zuckerberg and Mr Sweeney.
  2. A source of dread; resentment; or irritation. [from late 16th c.]
    • 1709, John Dryden, "Lucretius: A Poem against the Fear of Death" (lines 1-2), published in a pamphlet of the same name with an Ode in Memory of Mrs. Ann Killebrew:
      What has this Bugbear Death to frighten Man,
      If Souls can die, as well as Bodies can?
    • 1738, Alexander Pope, Epistle I of the First Book of Horace; to Lord Bolingbroke
      But, to the world no bugbear is so great
      As want of figure and a small estate.
    • 1840 April – 1841 November, Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop. A Tale. [], London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1841, OCLC 1109979921:
      What have I done to be made a bugbear of, and to be shunned and dreaded as if I brought the plague?
  3. (archaic) An imaginary creature meant to inspire fear in children.
    Synonym: goblin
    • 1900, Carl Schurz, For Truth, Justice and Liberty:
      The partisans of the Administration object to the word “imperialism,” calling it a mere bugbear having no real existence.


See also[edit]


bugbear (third-person singular simple present bugbears, present participle bugbearing, simple past and past participle bugbeared)

  1. (transitive) To alarm with idle phantoms.


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2022), “bugbear”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. ^ bugbear”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.