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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:
      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:
      What have I done to be made a bugbear of, and to be shunned and dreaded as if I brought the plague?
  3. (archaic, folklore) A generic creature, often described as a large goblin, meant to inspire fear in children.
    • c. 1602, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Troylus and Cressida”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene ii]:
      Ha, ha: alas poore wretch: a poore Chipochia, haſt not ſlept to night? would he not (a naughty man) let it ſleepe: a bug-beare take him.
    • 1847 December, Ellis Bell [pseudonym; Emily Brontë], chapter XXII, in Wuthering Heights: [], volume (please specify |volume=I or II), London: Thomas Cautley Newby, [], →OCLC:
      “How could you lie so glaringly as to affirm I hated the ‘poor child’? and invent bugbear stories to terrify her from my door-stones? []
    • 1853, Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Golden Fleece”, in Tanglewood Tales[2]:
      "My young friends," quietly replied Jason, "I do not wonder that you think the dragon very terrible. You have grown up from infancy in the fear of this monster, and therefore still regard him with the awe that children feel for the bugbears and hobgoblins which their nurses have talked to them about. [] "
    • 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 (2001–2024), “bugbear”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. ^ bugbear”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.