bug·​bear | \ ˈbəg-ˌber How to pronounce bugbear (audio) \

Definition of bugbear

1 : an imaginary goblin or specter used to excite fear
2a : an object or source of dread
b : a continuing source of irritation : problem

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Bugbear sounds like some kind of grotesque hybrid creature from fable or folklore, and that very well may be what the word's creator was trying to evoke. When the word entered English in the 16th century, it referred to any kind of creature made up to frighten someone; in 1592, Thomas Nashe wrote of "Meere bugge-beares to scare boyes." The word's first element refers not to the familiar creatures one encounters in the garden, but to a different bug entirely: since the 15th century, bug (from Middle English bugge, meaning "hobgoblin"—that is, a mischievous goblin) has referred to a ghost or goblin. The bear in bugbear is the one still feared today, and suggests what such made-up creatures were perhaps described as resembling.

Examples of bugbear in a Sentence

The biggest bugbear of the skiing business is a winter with no snow. communism was once the nation's biggest bugbear
Recent Examples on the Web Similarly, this series has something to say about self-absorption: Emily’s failure to learn French or immerse herself in French culture, a bugbear of the show’s haters, is treated critically in this new season. Daniel D'addario, Variety, 20 Dec. 2021 His shoulders, for one, have always been a real bugbear for him. E. Alex Jung, Vulture, 12 Oct. 2021 Charging infrastructure is likely to be the biggest bugbear for the next few years. James Morris, Forbes, 9 Oct. 2021 This approach has raised anew the bugbear of the unassimilable Other in our midst. Michael Luo, The New Yorker, 23 Aug. 2021 The kicker line came in a reference to progressive New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a favorite bugbear of the Republicans who control Texas politics. Gilbert Garcia, San Antonio Express-News, 15 June 2021 Fraudulence is the contemporary Black artist’s fear; authenticity, his constant bugbear. Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker, 14 May 2021 Taxation without representation was famously a bugbear of American colonists in the 18th century. The Economist, 4 July 2020 The notion that Bolton, a longtime bugbear of Democrats who has worked in four Republican administrations, was operating furtively within the White House to advance liberal objectives bemused some who have dealt with him. Anchorage Daily News, 29 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'bugbear.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of bugbear

1552, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

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The first known use of bugbear was in 1552

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Last Updated

8 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Bugbear.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bugbear. Accessed 27 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for bugbear



English Language Learners Definition of bugbear

: something that causes problems or annoys people

More from Merriam-Webster on bugbear

Nglish: Translation of bugbear for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of bugbear for Arabic Speakers


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