CLAIRE BARRAND reveals the British origins of the monster we all know as the Bogeyman!

Boogeyman 2005
Monsters called Bogeymen or by other names have been used to scare children into good behaviour since early times. Here’s a scene from 2005 horror Boogeyman.

Were you ever told as a child, that if you misbehave, the Bogeyman would come and get you?

The threat has been widely used across the world in various differing terms, but, who is the Bogeyman and where did the word come from?

In the US, he is referred to as Boogyman or Boogieman, but we are still talking about the same character, used to force children into behaving?

Pretty much though, our concepts of what he looks like vary and he has no specific set appearance.

He is literally a generic incarnation of fear. Sometimes, he is thought to be the Devil himself.

It is, however, taken that he is a male or at least gender-less.

Where does the word Bogeyman come from?

The origins of the word Bogey or Boogie could have emerged from many different sources.

I will look specifically at British Bogeyman and suspect there may be a link to the middle English word for bugbear which is bogge or bugge.

In the 19th century, Old Bogey was a common term for the Devil, whose realm is Bogydom.

Bogey is also cognate with the old Welsh word bwg, which means hobgoblin or ghost.

British regional variants on the word Bogeyman

In regions around the UK, other entities were used as alternatives to Bogeyman to terrify children into being good.

In East Yorkshire, children tempted to steal apples from orchards would be told that the fairy Awd Goggie would eat them!

Tom Dockin was another name that would be mentioned to strike fear into the hearts of young children – he had iron teeth that he used to crunch the bones of young children.

Mumpoker and Tankerabogus would drag children into their deepest darkest lairs, and Tom Poker lived under the stairs and in wardrobes.

In Scotland, it was said that the Bodach would come from inside the chimney to take children away if they were disobedient.

The threat of Bogeymen didn’t exclude all female entities, however, oh no, for there were evil characters that also liked to kidnap naughty children!

Fungus the Bogeyman
Fungus the Bogeyman, a 1977 children’s book by UK artist Raymond Briggs, follows one day in the life of a working-class bogeyman whose job is to scare people.

Grindylow, Jenny Greenteeth, and Nelly Longarms were grotesque hags that live in deep ponds and rivers waiting for an opportunity to grab a tasty young child beneath the water if they got too close to the edge.

Why did parents invent the Bogeyman?

It sounds like a pretty horrendous way to discipline your children to modern parents, and the thought of telling young impressionable minds that something so awful might be waiting to drag them away seems kind of harsh!

However, it is worth bearing in mind that years ago parents had fewer means to protect their children from harm, and it wasn’t always thought appropriate to explain things to children in understandable terms as Supernanny would advocate doing today. 

Many children would be allowed to play outdoors for hours on end with no means of communication like we have nowadays to let their parents know where they were or if they had got into trouble. So indoctrinating a fear of playing near water or fires seems like a good idea.

Most of the behaviour that was warned against would be incredibly dangerous and have severe consequences.

For example, stealing apples would have held a harsh punishment in days gone by.

Maybe the warnings of these horrific characters were a wise idea dreamt up by smart parents, and who knows, despite the nightmares they must have caused at least they knew their little ones were safe, and there was at least a moral to each story!

Claire Barrand
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