bug·​bear ˈbəg-ˌber How to pronounce bugbear (audio)
: an imaginary goblin or specter used to excite fear
: an object or source of dread
: 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.

Example Sentences

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 His instructions to create an image of two bugbears of the political right laughing together - Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s former leading infectious-disease doctor, and George Soros, the liberal financier - led to an image of the two men merged together, Higgins said. Isaac Stanley-becker And Naomi Nix, Anchorage Daily News, 23 Mar. 2023 The fight centered largely on whether actors could stop the website from revealing their ages, a bugbear for some performers who believed disclosing such personal information invaded their privacy and might discourage some employers from hiring them for roles. Anousha Sakouistaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 13 Dec. 2022 An old bugbear—the competition—is nipping at its heels. Jacky Wong, WSJ, 23 Feb. 2023 Paleospondylus means ancient vertebrae in Greek, but gunni is an old Scottish term for a bugbear, or boogeyman. Connor Lynch, Discover Magazine, 20 June 2022 That’s a particular bugbear for astronomers — artificial light obscures their view of the faintest objects. The Physics Arxiv Blog, Discover Magazine, 9 July 2020 This was a particular bugbear among baby boomers (born 1955–1964) and Gen Xers (born 1965–1980). Orianna Rosa Royle, Fortune, 30 Jan. 2023 In part, using the debt ceiling as an intra-party wedge is not simply about the borrowing limit, no matter how much it's become a bugbear itself for fiscal conservatives. Rafi Schwartz, The Week, 9 Jan. 2023 But the exact placement of the bugbear in the Devonian period has even more interesting implications, Hirasawa says. Connor Lynch, Discover Magazine, 20 June 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'bugbear.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1552, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of bugbear was in 1552


Dictionary Entries Near bugbear

Cite this Entry

“Bugbear.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bugbear. Accessed 3 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


bug·​bear ˈbəg-ˌba(ə)r How to pronounce bugbear (audio)
: an imaginary creature used to frighten children
: something one is afraid of
: a continuing source of annoyance

More from Merriam-Webster on bugbear

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