1 of 2


hum·​bug ˈhəm-ˌbəg How to pronounce humbug (audio)
: something designed to deceive and mislead
Their claims are humbug.
: a willfully false, deceptive, or insincere person
He's just an old humbug.
denounced as humbugs the playwrights who magnify the difficulties of their craft Times Literary Supplement
: an attitude or spirit of pretense and deception
in all his humbug, in all his malice and hollowness Mary Lindsay
: nonsense, drivel
academic humbug
British : a hard usually peppermint-flavored candy
humbuggery noun


2 of 2


humbugged; humbugging

transitive verb

: deceive, hoax
humbugged by their doctors G. B. Shaw

intransitive verb

: to engage in a hoax or deception
Choose the Right Synonym for humbug

imposture, fraud, sham, fake, humbug, counterfeit mean a thing made to seem other than it is.

imposture applies to any situation in which a spurious object or performance is passed off as genuine.

their claim of environmental concern is an imposture

fraud usually implies a deliberate perversion of the truth.

the diary was exposed as a fraud

sham applies to fraudulent imitation of a real thing or action.

condemned the election as a sham

fake implies an imitation of or substitution for the genuine but does not necessarily imply dishonesty.

these jewels are fakes; the real ones are in the vault

humbug suggests elaborate pretense usually so flagrant as to be transparent.

creating publicity by foisting humbugs on a gullible public

counterfeit applies especially to the close imitation of something valuable.

20-dollar bills that were counterfeits

Example Sentences

Noun tests showed that the “old” map of America was a cleverly made humbug those UFO stories are a lot of humbug Verb humbugged into believing that the bones were the skeleton of a prehistoric human being
Recent Examples on the Web
His bah-humbug to Halloween was in keeping with that tough line. Nicole Winfield, Star Tribune, 17 Oct. 2020 Like many American holidays, it is now encrusted with humbug and commercialism. Dan Mclaughlin, National Review, 5 May 2020 As the story goes, he is visited by a trio of Christmas ghosts (whom Scrooge accuses of being humbugs). Elizabeth Wolfe And Douglas S. Wood, CNN, 21 Dec. 2019 Heroic detective, pilot, poet, magician and victor over all bullies and humbugs, animal or human, Freddy remains a model to us all. New York Times, 12 Mar. 2020 Merriam-Webster defines a humbug as something or someone that is false or deceptive. Elizabeth Wolfe And Douglas S. Wood, CNN, 21 Dec. 2019 Like every state, Colorado has its folklore, hoaxes, tall tales and humbugs. Tom Noel, The Know, 24 Aug. 2019 The commercial web steams on as a hopped-up, strung-out system of hyperlinks, engineered to mix Barnumesque humbug with authentic reports, and to overlap ads and news—the better to sucker the eye. Virginia Heffernan, WIRED, 23 May 2018 This was familiar big-corporation humbug, custom-built to obscure the real issues. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 18 July 2019
In its verb form, to be humbugged is to be deceived or be the victim of a hoax. Elizabeth Wolfe And Douglas S. Wood, CNN, 21 Dec. 2019 See More

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

Word History


Noun and Verb

origin unknown

First Known Use


1750, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1749, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of humbug was in 1749

Dictionary Entries Near humbug

Cite this Entry

“Humbug.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



: a false or deceiving person or thing : fraud
humbug verb

More from Merriam-Webster on humbug

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
Name That Thing

You know what it looks like… but what is it called?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.