bogy, bogey, boogie, booger

I had a house-guest this week, and since I'm a bit behind in things, I was thinking I'd answer a really simple query. So, heading back to the April correspondence, I found Doug of Colorado writing about boogers in my inbox. I thought, 'oh, I'll do bogy and booger, that'll be quick!' But even as I began to write the title for this post, I reali{s/z}ed that this is going to get out-of-hand very quickly.

So, we start with snot. (Which just reminds me of Chiffon margarine ads from my American childhood: When you think it's butter, but it's not, it's Chiffon! That jingle writer did not have a good ear for potential mondegreens. We eight-year-olds thought it was hilarious.) Bits of fairly dry nasal mucus (you know what I mean) are colloquially called bogies (or bogeys) in BrE and boogers in AmE. The first vowel in the AmE version is generally pronounced like the oo in book. This is also the vowel that is found in the usual AmE pronunciation of the originally-AmE word boogie ('to [disco] dance'), though many BrE speakers pronounce it with a long /u/ sound, so that the first syllable is like the sound that a cartoon ghost would make (Boo!). In fact, the OED has only the boo! pronunciation, while the American Heritage has both, with the book-vowel one listed first. The long /u/ is also used for both oos in the usual BrE pronunciation of (orig. AmE) boogie-woogie, while AmE uses the book vowel for both.

It was only when I looked up bog(e)y in the OED that I discovered that one of the golf senses for bogey, 'a score of one stroke above par for a hole' (OED), is (or possibly was) AmE. The first (BrE) definition in the OED, 'The number of strokes a good player may be reckoned to need for the course or for a hole', seems to me to mean 'par'. I don't know a lot about golf (and I count myself lucky for that), but I only knew the AmE meaning. (American golfers, do you know the more 'par-like' meaning?) For the verb bogey ('to complete (a hole) in one stroke over par'), the OED lists this as 'orig. U.S.' It's a bit hard to believe that the verb has come over here, but not the noun. UK golfers, what's your experience?

(Apparently bogey is also Australian slang for a bath, and bogie is a Northern English--particularly Newcastle--dialectal word for 'A kind of cart with low wheels and long shafts'. But now I'm just getting distracted by the OED.)

And then there's the bogeyman. American Heritage lists four alternative spellings for this: bogeyman, boogeyman, boogyman, boogieman. OED has only bogyman (listed under bog(e)y) plus an example with the e: Bogey man. The capital B in some examples reflects bog(e)y's origin as a 'quasi-proper name' (OED) for the Devil. The AmE variations in spelling reflect the fact that it has many pronunciations in the US (probably regional in nature). In the order the AHD presents them, they are:
  1. with the book vowel: bʊg'ē-măn'
  2. with the long /o/, as in the golfing term bogey
  3. with the long /u/, as in boo! or BrE boogie
Myself, I grew up (in western New York state) with the first pronunciation, and would naturally use the last AmE spelling, but somewhere along the line I became conscious of bogeyman as the 'correct' spelling. That didn't affect my pronunciation of it.

I have a tangentially related (because there's an oo involved) anecdote from this week. Our house-guest was an American linguist who lives in Japan. Predictably, there were BrE/AmE conversations, particularly about water. But the best part (for me, at least) was when she noted that the café called Moorish Brighton wasn't particularly 'Moorish'. I'd claimed before we went there that it was Moroccan, but we found that it had all sorts of Mediterranean foods. It was only when she pronounced the café's name that I reali{s/z}ed it was a pun. I'd been pronouncing the oo with a /u/-ish vowel (which is typical in BrE or AmE) and just not getting the joke. She pronounced it with an /o/-like vowel (which the OED lists as a BrE alternative, oh well). Eureka! Moorish Brighton is (BrE) moreish!


  1. Where I grew up (central Maine), a bogeyman could also be a boogermonster. Nothing to do with the things in your nose, though.

    And I can't wrap my mind around a way to pronounce "Moorish" that doesn't sound like "moreish."

  2. I grew up on the coast of Massachusetts, and 'boogiemonster' works there.

    I'm on the same page with Ailsa WRT 'moorish'.

  3. There is a Calvin and Hobbs cartoon, where Calvin pulls several faces, outside in scarf, hat, coat, then asks, "Don't you hate it when your boogers freeze?"

    Boogers are all snot, dry, wet, whatever. (Am/E)

    Also, you might think it's funny to kiss your honey when your nose is runny but it'snot. (sorry, that's been stuck in my head for a decade.)

  4. I have heard, but don't know if it's true or not, that the name bogeyman comes from the Bugis people in S. Sulawesi, who at one time were much feared along S. E. Asian coastlines as pirates, and so is different from the snot bogeys.

  5. and bogie is a Northern English--particularly Newcastle--dialectal word for 'A kind of cart with low wheels and long shafts'.

    Not just Northern English. The small carts under a train carriage that carry a set of wheels are also called bogies - at least in BrE.

  6. Ailsa and edward: I'll give you what the dictionaries say, if you can decode the symbols (I hope they show up in comments):

    AHD has only one (AmE) pronunciation: mʊr'ĭsh. The ʊ is the book vowel. That's the same as what OED gives as the AmE pronunciation (though they use slightly different consonant symbols).

    For BrE, OED gives a diphthong version first, and unfortunately their symbols aren't showing up in comments (and I'm too lazy to learn the unicode this morning), but it's the ʊ followed by a schwa. So, similar to my pronunciation, but with a little twist. Their second BrE pronunciation is exactly the same as their representation for moreish, with a lax 'o' vowel (the vowel in most people's pronunciation of taut).

    We could hypothesi{s/z}e that since ailsa & edward are from New England, there might be some dialectal closeness with (old) England--and often there is. But my guest is from Wisconsin, so my hypothesis is that the dictionaries just haven't picked up on the full range of ways in which people say Moorish in AmE.

    Zhoen, can you call a runny nose boogers? I think it needs a certain amount of dryness in order to make it into a countable noun (i.e. discrete bits of snot), which booger has to be in my dialect (and the dictionaries), at least.

    Bingley, that sounds like a folk etymology, and the OED doesn't mention it. It says:

    "[Found in literature only recently; old people vouched (1887) for its use in the nursery as early as 1825, but only as proper name (sense 1). Possibly a southern nursery form of bogle, boggle, and boggard, or going back like them to a simpler form which, as mentioned under BOG and BOGLE, may be a variant of bugge, BUG ‘terror, bugbear, scarecrow’. But in the absence of evidence, positive statements concerning its relation to these words cannot be made. (That they are connected with the Slavonic bog ‘god’, is a mere fancy from the similarity of form, without any evidence.)"

    There is some discussion of its origins (particularly in the comments) at Language Hat.

    And finally, simon b, the meaning that you've cited (about trains) is not the dialectal meaning--that one is included in the OED as general English. It's the (apparently original) non-train meaning that they claim to be northern-dialectal.

  7. Bingley: I've heard the Bugis story too, but I haven't seen much in the way of evidence for it. OED says nothing about this possible etymology, even though the first cited usage of bogey to mean "a person much dreaded" is the 1857 quote, "Malay pirates..those bogies of the Archipelago." Earlier citations exist for (Old) Bogey/Bogie as a name for the devil, apparently related to the Scottish word bogle 'goblin, phantom'. Even if Bugis is not the ultimate source for the term, I think it's possible that it could have contributed to the pronunciation of bogey (man) as [bugi] or [bʊgi].

  8. The Oxford Guide To English Usage 1.46 -y, -ey, or -ie nouns:
    “bogie (wheeled undercarriage), bogey (golf), bogy (ghost)”

    In the linked Language Hat post, LH says:
    I think the latter is a colloquial/childish version of the former, which has always predominated in formal contexts. A section of the tax code is a “bogeyman”; the thing that's gonna getcha if you don't watch out is a “bogeyman”
    To my ears “bogeyman” is a childish variant of “bogy”; “boogieman” sounds like a Scooby-Doo villain. It has the merit of being the Simpson family’s preferred pronunciation:

    Lisa): Dad! I had a bad dream!
    (Homer): Oh Lisa. You just lay down and tell me all about it.
    (Lisa): I know this sounds absurd, but I was dreaming that the Boogieman was chasing me and...
    (Homer): AAHH! Boogieman!
    [Runs to Bart's room]
    (Homer): Bart, I don't want to alarm you, but we may have an ordeal involving a Boogieman or BoogieMEN in the house!
    (Bart): Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!

  9. Growing up in Glasgow, we also had bogies in the Newcastle sense you mention there, so it's not only northern English, although of course I can't rule out the possibility that it originated there and travelled up to us. Certainly by the early seventies it was well enough established to be the only form used by my father (born in 1932 and lived in Glasgow all his life).

    And I never even heard of bogey for snot until I got a bit older and started watching English TV programmes and reading English books other than Enid Blyton's (Enid would never mention such an impolite thing, of course), so my suspicion is that that usage is strictly EngE rather than BrE.

  10. Correction: I misquoted LanguageHat and rather lost the point:

    I think the latter is a colloquial/childish version of the former, which has always predominated in formal contexts. A section of the tax code is a “bogeyman”; the thing that's gonna getcha if you don't watch out is a “boogeyman”

  11. All this talk of the oo in book is very confusing. I think I would pronounce book exactly as I pronounce buck, and I take this to be the sound that you mean. However, growing up in north-west England (Manchester) I heard many people pronounce book with the long /u/ sound that you describe. So if they wanted to find a recipe, they would l/u/k in a c/u/k b/u/k.

    And we kids would often race round the streets on bogies, so that use is certainly not restricted to Newcastle.

  12. What about a train's bogey, referring to a carriage not some collective snot? :-/

  13. Strawman, when I say 'long /u/', I mean the sound in Boo! not the sound in RP/AmE book. The sound in book in RP and general AmE is a lax /u/ (the funny symbol in my last comment). It's listed on this site as 'u' (the vowel in could), and if you put your cursor over the sounds there they play (Very loudly on my computer!). This is different in most dialects from the sound in buck, which is the same as the sound in but on that website. The more north one goes, the more likely it is that the pronunciations I give here are not representative.

    Shefaly--did you miss the discussion of trains above?

  14. Another way to illustrate the alternate proinunciation of Moorish would be to say that the Moor would rhyme with Tour or Cure or with the "oo" sound in Cool (as long as you don't make those words have two syllables) I believe I have heard the word "Boorish" said in a similar manner on a Britcom or two, but could be mistaken.

    As for the Boogieman, one thing that might go over the heads of people who say "Bogeyman" is that occasionally on more comical halloween episodes of shows, or horror movies with a comedic theme, the song "I'm Your Boogie Man" by KC & the Sunshine Band would play...
    I wish I could think of an actual example of it happening...but of course I can't now...

  15. Yes. If I sneeze a spray of wet snot on someone, they might tell me, "You got boogers all over me!"

    Likewise, children of the opposite gender leave invisible smears of booger all over anything they touch, which must be counteracted with invisible spraying.

  16. But the spray is presumably in discrete bits that land on you, which goes with the countability of boogers. If you were really stuffed up, could you use booger? I could say I'm full of snot or I'm really snotty (punning potential there), but not I'm full of booger(s)--that gives the feeling of lots of little pickable bits.

    This discussion, by the way, is rather disgusting.

  17. Of course, boogie is not just a music reference and a dance reference, but also a sexual reference (you know what music and dfancing will lead to);

    White Zombie: I'm Your Boogie Man (Sex On The Rocks Mix)
    The Horizontal Boogie
    and my personal favorite,
    Boogie by John Hartford: "Hey Babe You Wanna Boogie?...Boogie, Oggie, Oggie With Me....Hey Babe You Wanna Boogie?...."

  18. I was obliged to play golf when young. The old British meaning of bogey was not one-over-par - that was viewed as an American error - but par-ish.

  19. US and some European train/rail cars/carriages have an assembly called a bogie on either end that usually has either four or six wheels. The assembly rotates to allow the vehicle to round curves at speed. The wheels thereon are bogie wheels.

    Additionally, tracked armored vehicles have unpowered wheels that support some of the weight of the vehicle and keep the track aligned between the sprocketed wheels at the front and rear of the track. These are also called bogies or bogie wheels.

    MW 10C has additional senses that I'd not previously heard:

    "1 : a low strongly built cart"

    2 "b : the driving-wheel assembly consisting of the rear four wheels of a 6-wheel automotive truck"

    FWIW, the etymology of this sense of "bogie" is "[origin unknown] 1835".

  20. Meant to add: the trans-Atlantic distinction isn't quite so clear-cut, since some AmE speakers say [bugi] instead of [bʊgi] for "boogie (woogie)", particularly in the Upper Midwest. I believe the [bugi] pronunciation used to be quite widespread among (white) Americans (listen to the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"), but [bʊgi] took over with the popularization of "boogie" (in music/dance senses) in the '60s and '70s. More discussion in this alt.usage.english thread.

  21. Another meaning for bogey is "blip on the radar screen". For example, during a movie scene involving warplanes you might hear dialogue like "Bogey at 6 o'clock". How does this meaning relate to the others, and is it known in Great Britain?

  22. Joe: I think that in "bogey at six o'clock", the bogey is an enemy or unknown/sinister craft (i.e. ghost, goblin, scary creature).

    My personal reverse-engineering of the "bogey"/"par" distinction is that "bogey" is a good score for an average weekend hacker (say an 18-handicapper), while "par" is a good score for a strong player (off scratch).

  23. I served as an RAF radar operator in the late1950’s and the word “bogey”(an unidentified blip) was seldom used. I think it was considered “naff” or pretentious among conscript airman to use RAF slang as it would not do to appear to be entering in the spirit and you had to maintain your stance that you were in the RAF under protest! It was just before the cold War hotted-up, so we were not too busy and often the Fighter Controller would be standing next to you with a mug of tea in his hand and if you saw a “blip” you would just say ”Sir, I have something here”. If there was a separate plotting room, if I remember correctly, you would just commence reading out the position and it was up to the Fighter Controller to designate the “blip” friendly or hostile. Furthermore “bogey” probably originated in the USAF. However there was (and I believe there still is) a tradition going back to the Battle of Britain and when practicing interceptions pilots would often say “Tally-ho” or “bandit at 1o’clock” etc. when they had visual contact with their target and I am sure despite all the technological advances somebody, who worked in a wartime control room, would still feel at home in a modern radar station.

  24. I'm wondering: is 'bogie' in the sense of 'cart' or 'train's wheeled assembly' is etymologically related to 'buggy', meaning a horse-drawn or human-pushed carriage?

  25. Joe, I think the radar meaning for bogey is the same as the 'spooky thing' meaning that's found in bogeyman. It's a 'ghost' in the radar.

    Howard, OED doesn't know where bogie ('cart') comes from--but says it's clearly not related to bog(e)y since that word came to the North later. (Backing up Cameron's claim above that it's more southern.)

  26. Lynne, sorry to contradict: a “bogey” was a definite blip normally indicating an aircraft, whose identity was not known. Very occasionally there were very brief almost ethereal signals, which were probably caused by flock of birds, insects or metrological conditions and these were known as “angels”.

  27. You're not contradicting what I meant, Peter, though you may be interpreting the word 'ghost' differently from how I meant it. I meant that it was a spooky unknown thing...

  28. As an Australian of 56 years standing, I have to say I have never heard a bath called a bogey. And it isn't listed in any local slang dictionary.

  29. My dear, dear Lynne, I certainly was not claiming that anything was more southern than Newcastle. Glasgow could not be described so, at least not accurately.

    But it's okay, you're foreign and don't know any better.

  30. My dear, dear, dear Cameron, surely it is unnecessarily patroni{s/z}ing in any dialect to use a term of endearment to correct someone you've not met in a public forum, is it not? ;)

    Anyhow, I didn't see my comment as contradicting you, but as giving you credit for raising the point about the non-northernness of the term earlier (though not as extreme a point north-south-wise as we later had evidence for).

    Interface, the last examples that the OED has for bog(e)y-'bathing place' are from the 1940s, so it could well have died out or be more geographically/age-limited now. Here's one of the last citations for it:
    "1945 -- Austral. Lang. xiii. 223 Then there are the aboriginal words which we have borrowed and extended in meaning, e.g. bogie or bogey, to bathe, from which we have taken bogiehole, a swimming hole, bogiehouse, a bathroom, and bogieing, bathing."

    It seems to have been used in meanings related both to bathing in the 'swimming' sense and in the 'cleaning' sense (given the 'bathroom' reference in the quotation).

    I wondered whether this could be related to the surfing equipment boogie boards (since there's a lot of surfing in Australia), but the OED lists that as originally AmE and related to the music/dance sense of boogie.

  31. I did just think of an American (or atleast military American) usage of "boey" in the sense of "par." At least in the Air Force budgeting process, a bogey is the target budget number a program or set of programs is given by the planning and programming shop. It may be related to the radar usage if you think of it as a target.

  32. There's an old Weird Al Yankovic song -- for the unfamiliar, he's an American singer best known for his parodies of pop songs, though AFAIK this one is an original -- done in a disco style which starts off:

    Gotta boogie
    Gotta boogie
    Gotta boogie
    Gotta boogie on my finger and I can't shake it off

    And of course it goes on to describe the many ways in which he fails to remove the "boogie" (booger) from his finger.

  33. the 'A kind of cart with low wheels and long shafts' bit reminds me of a teacher taking assembly one day at junior school. He was from SUnderland and for some reason it was all about go-karts. I'm sure the only reason he did it so he could say "bogey" a lot to a large group of giggling pre-teens.

    This meaning is also used to describe the base of a railway carriage.

  34. All this discussion of bogies and not a single mention of Humphrey Bogart?

  35. My mother-in-law is from Oldham and she will not allow the word BOOGER in her house. After years of asking her to tell me she finally said that in Lancashire they use that term for bestiality.

  36. that is, in a Lancashire accent, it sounds like bugger?

  37. In any generic "northern" BrE accent I think your "booger" would match "bugger". - Hence we would also avoid your pronunciation of "boogie".

    (As a southerner in Manchester one of the weird shifts in pronunciation is how my "buck" gets pronounced by them as I would pronounce "book", and they then pronounce "book" to match your ghostly "boo".)

  38. Apropos of bogeys, boogers, and other things that come out of your nose, my husband generally calls them "snobs". He spent a lot of his childhood in Australia -- is this an Oz term?

    "Snobs" has the advantage (as far as I can make out) of referring equally to discrete solid objects or to blots of liquid substance.

    And yes, this is probably the most disgusting thread on this blog.

  39. The "bogey" as "par" dates from the early days of golf (and refers to a "ghost player" to match scores with). When gutta perca (sp?) balls were replaced with modern ones, the ideal score went down, and they had to invent a new term (thus "par" displaced bogey as the average).

  40. My two-year-old daughter has learnt "booger" from her American mother. She pronounces it exactly as my Yorkshire parents would pronounce "bugger", though they rarely stoop to such language. I'm looking forward to seeing their reaction when they first hear her say it - I'm fairly sure they won't know the American word, so they will assume our daughter is swearing in good broad Yorkshire.

    Such mutual incomprehensiveness makes several decent puns unworkable on the wrong side of the Atlantic. In the British children's book Fungus the Bogeyman, bogey = snot but bogeyman = troll, monster, etc. In the Joni Mitchell song God Must Be a Boogieman, boogie refers to music while boogieman also suggests a frightening or unbelievable ghost.

  41. This here copy of Chambers English Dictionary says of the golfing bogey:

    "[…] The score, for a given hole or for the whole course, of an imaginary good player, Colonel Bogey, fixed as a standard: the bogey can be higher than par or sometimes equivalent to it, now usually a score of one stroke above the par for any hole."

    I think originally the relation between bogey and par was an indicator of the difficulty of the hole.

  42. According to the OED, 'buggy' (in the carriage sense) first appeared in 1773. Although the etymology is unknown, it is conjectured to be related to bogie.

    Gentleman's Magazine: "Driving a post coach and four against a single horse chaise, throwing out the driver of it, and breaking the chaise to pieces..ludicrously denominating mischief of this kind, ‘Running down the Buggies’."


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)