Does the Bogeyman Boogie?

By Mark Nichol

Despite the fact that the first two syllables of bogeyman are pronounced just like boogie, the antics of bogeymen, vaguely defined imaginary beings conjured to threaten misbehaving children—as far as can be ascertained—do not include dancing, and the words are apparently unrelated.

Bogey appears to have derived ultimately from the Middle English noun bugge, meaning “something frightening” (which may also be the origin of bug) and was first attached to -man hundreds of years ago. Because of its pronunciation, bogeyman is commonly misspelled boogeyman and in the United States has even been pronounced and spelled boogerman, though the word for dried nasal mucus presumably has no connection.

The term bogey for a golf score that is one more shot than par is not related; it was based on the personification of a golfing opponent supposedly inspired by a real-life Colonel Bogey (who also inspired “The Colonel Bogey March,” a military tune). Bogey has also been a nickname for various people, most prominently twentieth-century actor Humphrey Bogart. (In his case, however, it was usually spelled Bogie.) However, the military-aviation code word for an unidentified aircraft, established during World War II, is based on bogeyman.

Related terms include bugbear and bugaboo, which originally referred to similar putative entities but now apply primarily to a source of annoyance or dread.

Boogie, by contrast, refers to an element of music originally heard in blues as a signature of boogie-woogie music but later incorporated into rockabilly and rock and roll. This term may derive from a word originating in a language spoken in what is now the African nation of Sierra Leone; bogi means “dance,” and the primary goal of boogie is to get people to boogie.

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2 Responses to “Does the Bogeyman Boogie?”

  • Dale A. Wood

    When it comes to unknown aircraft spotted on the radar, I always thought that it was spelled “Bogie”, but it does not really matter. This word and “bogey” sound just the same.
    The naval jargon of 1940 – 45 needed some new words because radar on ships was just coming into use. Even “radar” was new, and you can see it in old books and magazines written RADAR, as an acronym just like NAZI –> Nazi, NATO, NACA (the predecessor of NASA), and NASDAQ –> Nasdaq. Well, RADAR –> radar very quickly.
    So, in the U.S. Navy, at least, an unknown surface target was a “skunk” and an unknown aerial target was a “bogie”/”bogey”.
    World War II experienced the first uses of ground-based air defense radar, with the first British system watching over England and Scotland; shipborne radar, developed by the U.S. Navy for monitoring airborne and surface targets; and in airborne radar for night fighters like the British/Canadian/Australian Beaufighter and Mosquito, the German ME-110 / 210, and a variety of American fighters like special versions of the P-38 Lightning, F6F Hellcat, F-4U Corsair, and the brand-new P-61 Black Widow night fighter. The P-61 even had the novelty of a three-man crew for a fighter: 1) The pilot, 2) the radar operator, and 3) the gunner/ radio operator. All three shared the duties of navigator.
    The carrier pilots of the U.S. Navy even developed the first AEW (Airborne Early Warning) plane in radar-equipped versions of the TBF Avenger. These could fly at night, detecting Japanese “snoopers” their radar, and then using their radios to direct fighters to investigate/ shoot down. The TBF was also a three-man plane in all conditions, and in the AEW version it had a pilot, a radar operator, and a jack-of-all trades tail gunner/navigator/radio operator. He might have even had room to make some coffee. Ordinary TBF Avengers didn’t have any radar, and that position was taken by the bombardier/ navigator/ radio operator because the TBF was a torpedo bomber by design.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The predecessor of NASA was the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics. This one was set up in the 1930s to advise the President and Congress on matters of aviation & aeronautics, which back then were the same thing.
    Some writers put this one as the N.A.C.A. because the letters were always pronounced one at a time: “N” “Aa” “Cee” “Aa”, and never pronounced as a word like NASA = “nassa”.
    I was always confused back in the early 1960s because I thought that they were saying NASA = “Nassau”, which is a place in the Bahamas just east of Florida. There was a well-known radar site and tracking station at Nassau on the Grand Bahama Island, and the reporters on TV and the radio were always saying “NASA” and “Nassau”, because the rockets were launched from Florida (NASA) and tracked on the radar from Nassau, “holy smokes!”.

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