Monday, November 28, 2011


It’s time for the Scrooges among us to begin the annual litany of “Bah! Humbugs!” that make this season of joy palatable. 

“Humbug” is a strange word, apparently having nothing to do with an insect that can carry a tune.  It means “a hoax, something intended to deceive,” or just “nonsense.” It was first used in student slang around 1750 in England, and wouldn’t you know that neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor any of the various Websters I consulted has a clue about its etymology. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word’s origin was a subject of much whimsical speculation even as early as the 1750s.

One blogger I found thinks that humbug may be derived from the Old Norse words hum, meaning “night” or “shadow” or “dark air,” and bugges, a variant of bogey, meaning “apparition” or "ghost."  In the absence of any better theories to the contrary, I’m willing to go with that.

In England, humbugs are hard candies with soft centers, usually peppermint flavored. They have been around since about 1825. They are especially popular around Christmas, so maybe Scrooge was really offering his visitors a piece of candy when he said “Humbug!”

If you’re looking for a gift for the person who has everything, you could hardly do better than a device called the “Baa Humbug,” which is available on for $11.75.  It’s a plastic sheep that poops humbug candies.  Mmmmm. 

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is full of humbugs, of all varieties, but soldiers on despite this infirmity.           

            Hey, you smart bugs and you dumb bugs,
            Don your homburgs, all you humbugs!
            In Christmas spirit we’re immersed.
            For Christmas comes but once a year,
            Spreading lots of mirth and cheer,
            With joy our hearts swell up and burst.
            Santa with his eight reindeer
            And bags of presents will appear,           
            With nuts and candies interspersed.
            A little eggnog or some beer
            Will help us to forget the fear
            Of how much money we’ve disbursed.
            Wait! Christmas really isn’t near,
            It’s weeks before it will be here—
            Somehow I find it rather queer
            It starts around November first.


  1. But Christmas stuff is often seen,
    Beginning around Halloween.