Monday, May 20, 2013

Bogus May Bug Us

I occasionally hear young people (anyone under 60) say something they don’t approve of is “bogus.”  In current usage, that word seems to mean “unbelievable, untrue, undesirable, or stupid.” 

Bogus was first used in early nineteenth century America to mean “counterfeit money,” and later to refer to anything “fake” or “ersatz.” Precursors of bogus can be found in English as early as 1500.  Middle English bugge meant a “frightening specter,” and is related to our modern word bug. Other related words include bogeyman, boggart, boggle, and bogle, a Scottish word for “ghost” popularized by Walter Scott and Robert Burns.

The variant bogus first referred to a contraption that printed counterfeit money, and later to the money itself.  Some trace this usage to the word tantrabobus (sometimes tantrabogus), an eighteenth-century Vermont colloquialism for any odd-looking object.  This might have its source in tantrabobs, a Devonshire word for the devil.

That old devil of Buffalo Bayou, a.k.a. the Bard, remains the champion of bogus verse, in all the above senses.     

            Experts have often asserted that orange 
            Is a word that all rhyming abhors, 
            But look into Webster’s and you will find “sporange: 
            A sac for asexual spores.” 

            But nothing shows up that matches with bogus— 
            It’s rhymeless, like purple and silver. 
            Now why can’t there be a word such as flogus, 
            Or pantheocurpal or trilver? 


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