Bug and Bear It

The term “bugbear” is now often used to mean a pet peeve or just something annoying, perhaps because of how “bug” can mean “to annoy.” I suppose such things are also a person’s cross to BEAR. Traditionally, however, the term is basically just a variation on the sorts of creatures intended to scare children, like boogeymen and boggarts. It can also be more or less synonymous with “goblin.” So where does the bear part come in? Well, I can’t say I know for sure, but apparently medieval England identified a bugbear as a bear that lives in the woods and eats disobedient children.

pparently bugbears appear in Dungeons & Dragons, where they’re a larger variety of goblin. They do, however, have noses and claws that are somewhat ursine.

Ruth Plumly Thompson uses a bugbear briefly in Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz, and here she takes the punny route by making it a combination of a bear and an insect. Called an “Entomophagus monster” by Shagomar the stag, the creature is described as “[l]arge as a Grizzly, half insect and half bear.” John R. Neill draws a rather disturbing monster with bug-like eyes.

Crosses between animals are common in mythology, but I have to wonder how some of them originate. The Minotaur is specifically described as the offspring of a bull and a human woman, and others are creatures of chaos that don’t appear to follow typical genetics. I tend to doubt the Ozian bug-bears resulted from a sexual union like the one that produced the Minotaur, partially because it’s a children’s series, but also because I don’t think it would work physically. Actually, Melody Grandy touches on this issue in her Zim Greenleaf of Oz, in which Zim finds a combining spell in the books of the wizard Wormfist the Evil. Tip says, “I’ll bet Oz animals like the hippogyraffe were created by such a spell.” The Hip-po-gy-raf, which I mention in this post, made an appearance in L. Frank Baum’s The Tin Woodman of Oz.

This entry was posted in Animals, British, Etymology, Fairy Tales, Games, Greek Mythology, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Melody Grandy, Monsters, Mythology, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Bug and Bear It

  1. “Hobgoblin”, etc, is the original meaning of the English word “bug”. (“Bug” for insect may or may not be a descendant.) Cf. “Hamlet”:
                                        An exact command,
    Larded with many seuerall sorts of reason;
    Importing Denmarks health, and Englands too,
    With hoo, such Bugges and Goblins in my life,
    That on the superuize no leasure bated,
    No not to stay the grinding of the Axe,
    My head shoud be struck off.

    • Nathan says:

      So did the term “to bug” come from the word for insects, or vice versa?

      • rri0189 says:

        “Bug” (to annoy) is hardly older than I am. It is thought to come from “bug” (an insect), but it might have come through several routes, including “bug” (to remove insects from plants) and “bug” (an obsessed person, or his obsession).

  2. Trent F. Milam says:

    Great information. Bugbears are a fascination of mine lately

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