From an NPR report this morning, about a Washington State man who confronted and then was shot by a gunman in a shopping mall:

“The first word that went through my head was ‘Bugger!’ Clearly, too much British TV.”

I categorize this one as an outlier because, as the gentleman’s comment indicates, the word has not penetrated (pardon the expression) U.S. usage yet, either as an interjection, a verb or an adverb (“And the pain, the hellish pain, of spending all that money, and getting bugger all in return,” The Sunday Times, 2002).

23 thoughts on ““Bugger”

  1. I can understand why you were short on the history of this one. There are a number of unsavory words creeping into general usage, words I still wouldn’t spell out here, but which are heard quite frequently on screen these days.

    For similar commentary, I would refer to your entry on “bloody,” particularly the entry by Picky on May 2, 2012 at 9:10 am.

    1. Yes – if perhaps I can expand a little on that from my point of view, I should start by saying that when I was in paid employment it was as a journalist, and I and my colleagues indulged, in our everyday conversations, in language so coarse that I would find it highly offensive were I to hear it in the street or the shop.

      But this is about register: that language didn’t appear in our newspaper; I wouldn’t have said “damn” in front of my parents, and I wouldn’t say “bugger” in front of my siblings to this day; in the company of my wife or children I might use “bloody”, or use “bugger!” as an exclamation; in the company of my grandchildren my language is snowlike.

      It seems to me that what’s wrong with much of the bad language on screen is that the perpetrators don’t understand what register they should be using; or in the case of performers they live in a bubble like the one in our newspaper office, but just don’t understand that outside the bubble different rules apply. It may be that’s because the audience is invisible to them.

  2. When I was in the British Army, the use of bugger was a natural word.i.e
    Bugger all …..nothing at all
    Bugger me…..I am surprised
    I’ll be buggered…What a surprise
    Bugger you….If you say so
    Bugger my old boots….I am really surprised
    Bugger off…Go away
    You bugger you….you smart arse

    It wasn’t used as an offensive word, more of a friendly word amongst mates.

  3. A nice use of it is reported of Cmdr von Schoultz the Russian naval attache who went along to the Battle Of Jutland in 1916
    “There were near misses whose splashes soaked bridge personnel in several ships, including the Russian naval attache in Hercules (“How you say ? – Bugger !”)
    It is a pretty mild term these days, much like “sod” which is short for sodomy or sodomite. That used to cause much smirking when IBM used to bring out their Statements of Direction.

  4. Here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GBdzsxgogw – is a short and good example of “Oh, bugger!” used in the general non-sexual British way, by an old codger called Unlucky Alf from The Fast Show (aka Brilliant in the US, apparently). The shot man speaking on NPR is a comedian called Dan McKown and so it is quite likely this was one of the bits of British TV he spent too much time watching. Google Unlucky Alf Fast Show and you’ll find several sketches with the same “oh bugger!” punchline.

    1. Lord Stamfordham was notoriously deaf; what King George V was alledged to have said when told that his health was improving, was, “Better book at Bognor”

  5. He might have been influenced by Richard Hammond’s ( of Top Gear ) reaction to his 290mph crash in 2006.

    If you can put up with the oleaginous Jonathan Ross.
    2:35-2:45 in this video

  6. In literary terms too; inspired no doubt by “Erewhon”, Dylan Thomas came up with “Llareggub” in Under Milk Wood. Instantly cleansed to “Llareggyb” by the BBC, but Llareggub it remains.

    “Playing silly-buggers, two-up”, = an ineffective enterprise of some kind or other.

    “Buggeration factor” = unintended complications.

    “Buggered” = broken, rendered useless….. (Also “Bolloxed” – means the same thing).

    “Silly Bugger” = an appropriate and affectionate response to dry humour……..

    And on it goes.

    The original dictionary definition is no longer a felony in Britain and whilst the word itself may travel, its spirit and humour remains deeply rooted here.

  7. Bugger, and “bugger all”, are almost wholly innocuous these days in the UK. Calling someone a daft bugger could be a term of endearment in parts of the country.

    (Although my partner’s use of “buggerations” as the nearest she gets to an expletive still sounds strange to me, even after many years …)

  8. I’m surprised no one has mentioned this (if they have, apologies from me!): in “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf”, written in 1966, by the way, there’s a dialogue between George and Martha – “When’s the little bugger coming home” etc etc etc.Maybe a very early Britishism for you?

    1. The OED has separate entries for “bugger” as a verb and exclamation and “bugger” as a noun, as in the “Virginia Woolf” quote. (However, both have the same etymology: )

      The noun has this definition: “In low language a coarse term of abuse or insult; often, however, simply = ‘chap’, ‘customer’, ‘fellow’.” The first citation is 1713, and there is this one from 1854 ( M. J. Holmes, “Tempest & Sunshine”): “If I’d known all you city buggers was comin’ I’d a kivered my bar feet.”

      All the OED’s citation for “bugger” (noun) are British, though I feel that, especially in the “little bugger” formulation, it’s been fairly common in the U.S.

  9. Always a commonly used word in my childhood in the North East of England, (so, 50 yrs ago),and without any real impolite associations.

  10. In many of the English-speaking parts of Canada, usually amongst people older than 40, the word ‘bugger’ remains in common use. You never hear it used as an exclamation, as in, “Bugger!” or “Oh bugger!”, or “Bugger me” the way you do in the UK, Australia or New Zealand. (Personally, I really like the Australian expression ‘Well, bugger me sideways’, because it expresses surprise and consternation so well.)

    However, what you will hear are expressions like “Bugger off”, “Don’t bugger it up” (considered to be a more ‘polite’ way of saying, ‘don’t f*ck it up’), “stupid bugger”, or “poor bugger” (an expression of sympathy). And when I was in a Canadian Army reserve unit many many moons ago, we used to say that we were ‘going off to play silly bugger’ (going on exercises), because anyone who managed to get himself shot (on said exercises, and due to stupidity) was referred to as a ‘silly bugger’.

    The word has, to my knowledge, never had any really impolite connotations.

  11. My father always used the word beggar as a substitute for the noun, eg, “silly beggar!” I’m not sure it makes it any more acceptable. A bit like saying “feck”. We all know what it means, so it is just as rude.

  12. This word is much more an antipodean phenomenon rather than British – certainly I do not hear it voiced very frequently at all, whereas the advert pictured below in New Zealand invites people to “Bugger off for bugger all”. Such an advert would not be acceptable in Britain!

  13. There is also the common phrase “playing silly buggers” when referring in exasperation to people messing around, i.e.horseplay, in inappropriate areas – such as kids playing ball in a busy car park.

  14. Surprised that no one has mentioned the em- variations embuggerance and embuggeration. Believe originally H.M. Armed Forces but _used_ to be moderately common in general U.K. usage. Very roughly; a problem, magnitude and severity unspecified, but not usually terribly serious, preventing the reaching of some goal or other. Also used ironically for a howling great disaster that wrecks everything. Used all the time where I work, but then I work with a lot of ex R.N. types.

    1. And famously, Terry Pratchett used the term embuggerance when he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s (and used the word in cameo in the TV film Going Postal).

      Which reminds me that in his book Reaper Man there’s a scene where the screws in a room in the Unseen University start spontaneously unscrewing. A don says, “Who’s playing silly buggers?” to which comes the reply, “We can’t, we haven’t got all the pieces.”

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