Final Word

The bogeyman has grown up and entered politics

Bogeyman.jpg

Created millenniums ago in many cultures by parents all over the world as a means to frighten children into good behaviour, the bogeyman has grown up and seems to have become a political tool.

In a newspaper article in 1986 it was written that American president Ronald Reagan “during the midterm elections, … rallied Republicans by raising the boogeyman (the American spelling and just one of a number of variants) of Kennedy.”

This political or broader type of context seems to have become the more preferred one for the use of the term ‘bogeyman’. And South Africa is no exception, with just about every political party having its own set of bogeymen – be it monopoly capital, state capture, Julius Malema and his populist slogans, the destruction of the free market system or sovereign credit downgrades.

After all, the definition in the Collins English Dictionary (Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition) for ‘bogeyman’ reads: “… a person, real or imaginary, used as a threat …”

When and where was the bogeyman born?

No-one knows for sure where and when the legend of the bogeyman made its first appearance. Some sources date it back to the 16th or 15th  century. Many claim it originated in Scotland and started off as bogle or the Gaelic word bocon.

Fact is that in many societies and cultures legends exist about some sort of monster of goblin, and are used by parents to frighten children into preferred behaviour. It was, and often still is, a monster that hides under the child’s bed or in the closet.

The monster has no specific appearance, and conceptions about it can vary drastically from region to region or even from household to household within the same community.

Sometimes the bogeyman can also be used as a nickname for the devil.

It is, besides targeting general misbehaviour, also often used to frighten children about specific mischiefs, like leaving clothes on the floor instead of putting them into the washing basket before going to bed.

Generally, it is believed that the word derived from the Middle English bogge/bugge (‘hobgoblin’) and is generally thought to be a cognate of the German bögge, böggel-mann (English ‘bogeyman’). But then we also get boeman in Dutch, busemann in Norwegian, bøhmand/busseman in Danish, bòcan, púca, pooka or pookha in Irish and pwca, bwga or bwgan in Welsh. And the list can be extended.

Southeast Asia

There are also claims that the term might have originated in Southeast Asia, referring to Bugis or Buganese pirates – the ruthless seafarers of southern Sulawesi, Indonesia’s third-largest island.

These pirates often plagued early English and Dutch trading ships and it is popularly believed that this resulted in the European sailors bringing their fear of the

‘bugi men’ back to their home countries.

Most etymologists disagree with this theory since words relating to ‘bogeyman’ were in common use centuries before European colonisation of Southeast Asia.

Final word

The exact origin of the term will probably never be finally and definitively pinned down and it might in time even get another name. However, the strategy of creating bogeymen to scare children and voters is sure to live on.

by Piet Coetzer

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