Boogeyman hiding in a closet
The bogeyman, also boogeyman, boogyman, or bogyman, is a legendary ghost-like monster that children often believe is real. The bogeyman has no specific appearance. He is sometimes equated with specific real-life persons, such as serial killer Albert Fish. The term bogeyman is also used metaphorically to mean a person or thing of which someone else has an irrational fear.
The commonest of childhood fears associated with the bogeyman is that of someone (usually a monster) hiding in one's room (such as behind the door or under the bed). The bogeyman is said to lurk like this and then attack the sleeper.
Sometimes parents will, as a way of controlling their children, encourage belief in a bogeyman that only preys on children who misbehave. Such bogeymen may be said to target a specific transgression — for instance, a bogeyman that persecutes children who suck their thumbs — or just general misbehaviour. Similar educational tactics apply to traditional characters such as Zwarte Piet (an assistant of Saint Nick who whips bad children).
Popular portrayals of Bogeymen include Victor Herbert's 1903 operetta Babes in Toyland , where they lived unsurprisingly in Bogeyland and Raymond Briggs' Fungus the Bogeyman. The latter relies on the children's slang word bogey meaning dried nasal mucus, a substance these particular bogeymen are particularly fond of.
The etymology of the word "bogeyman" is uncertain, as is when it first appeared in the English language. Some sources date it to the 16th century, while others to around 1836, as a term for the Devil.
The roots of the word might ultimately derive from the Middle English bugge, meaning a "frightening spectre". Similar deriviations include boggart, bogy, bugbear, the Welsh bwg, the Scottish Gaelic bòcan and the German bögge, all referring to goblins or frightening creatures. "Bogey" may also come from the Scottish bogle, meaning "ghost" or "hobgoblin", dating to around 1505 and popularised in English literature around the 19th century through the works of Scottish poets like Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.
Popular etymologies claimed for the term include it being a reference to Napoleon Bonaparte, who was nicknamed "Boney" by the British. Boney was certainly used as a threat to British children of the time, and it is claimed that Boney became Boneyman, which became Bogeyman.
Possible origins also point to Ireland and the extensive bogs there. When walking with another person, one falls through and the other seeing his partner fall through the bog and totally disappearing beneath the crust of the bog brought the phrase “the Bog-man took him” which became the pious creating “You better be good or the bog-man will get you.” Bog-man becoming bogeyman.
It may also have been derived from the Bugis people of Indonesia, feared pirates who preyed on shipping in the Straits of Malacca. According to this latter theory, European sailors who encountered them took their tales back to the Old World, telling stories of the "bugismen" to scare their children into behaving.
Bogeymen in other cultures
- Brazil - A similar creature with the same function (scare misbehaving children) exists as the "Bag Man" (Portuguese: "homem do saco"; Spanish "hombre de la bolsa" or "del saco", also "hombre del costal"). It is portrayed as an adult male, usually in the form of a bum, or a hobo, who carries a sack on his back (much like Santa Claus would), and collects children who are mean or misbehave to sell them. Parents may tell their kids that they will call the "Sack man" to collect them if they do not behave. A more akin version to Bogeyman is called "Bicho Papão" (Eating Beast).
- Bulgaria - In Bulgaria children are sometimes told that a dark scary monster-like person called Torbalan (man-with-a-sack) will come and kidnap them with his large sack if they misbehave. In some villages people used to believe that a hairy, dark, ghost-like creature called a talasam (Tal-ah-SUHM) lived in the shadows of the barn or in the attic and came out at night to scare little children.
- France - The French equivalent of the Bogeyman is "le croque-mitaine" ("the mitten-biter").
- Germany - in Germany the Bogeyman is known as Der schwarze Mann (the black man). "Schwarz" does not refer to the color of skin but to his preference for hiding in dark places, like the closet, under the bed of children or in forests at night.
- Greece - in Greece the equivalent of the Bogeyman is known as Baboulas (Μπαμπούλας). Most of the times he is said to be hiding under the bed, although it is used by the parents in a variety of ways.
- Hungary - in Hungarian a creature known as the mumus is used to discipline children.
- Netherlands - in Holland the bogeyman has many names: Boeman, Boezeman, Boezehappert, Jan Haak, Mannetje met de haak, Bullebak, Boevent, Beukèl, Haantje Pik, Tenensnijder, Boelekerel, Nekker, Krolleman, Heintje Pik, Okkerman etc. Most of them are lurking in the water.
- North India - Children are sometimes threatened with the Bori Baba, who carries a sack (bori) in which he places children he captures. A similar character is the Chownki Daar, a night shift security guard who takes children who refuse to go to sleep.
- South India - In the state of Tamil Nadu, children are often mock threatened with the Rettai Kannan. In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the equivalent of bogeyman is Buchadu.
- Iran - In Persian culture, children who misbehave might be told by their parents to be afraid of lulu (لولو) who eats up the naughty children. Lulu is usually called lulu-khorkhore (bogeyman who eats everything up). The threat is generally used to make small children eat their meals.
- Italy - The Italian equivalent of the Bogeyman is "l'uomo nero" ("the black man"), portrayed as a tall man wearing a heavy black coat, with a black hood or hat which hides his face. Sometimes, parents will knock loudly under the table, pretending that someone is knocking at the door, and saying: "Here comes l'uomo nero! He must know that there's a child here who doesn't want to drink his soup!" L'uomo nero is not supposed to eat or harm children, just take them away to a mysterious and frightening place. A popular lullaby says that he would keep a child with him "for a whole month". As the color black is associated with fascism in Italy, in adult language l'uomo nero is often used in political puns. Since the 1980s, "nero" has also replaced "negro" as a term for black-skinned people, so the expression "uomo nero" is also sometimes heard in racist puns.
- Poland - in some regions, like Silesia or Great Poland, children are mock threatened with bebok (babok, bobok), a bogeyman-like creature from old Polish legends.
- Quebec - in this French-speaking province, the "Bonhomme Sept-Heures" (7 o'clock man) is said to visit houses around 7 o'clock to take misbehaving children who will not go to bed back to his cave where he feasts on them.
- Romania - in Romania the equivalent of the Bogeyman is known as bau-bau (pronuonced "bow-bow"). Bau-bau stories are used by parents to scare children who misbehave.
- Russia - "Babay" ("Бабай"), usually said to be hiding under the bed, "babay" is used to keep children in bed or stop them from misbehaving. Children are told that "babay" is an old man with a bag or a monster, and that it will take them away if they misbehave.
- Spain - The Spanish Bogeyman is known as El Cuco, or El Coco, a shapeless figure, sometimes a hairy monster, that eats children that misbehave when they are told to go to bed. Parents will sing lullabies or tell rhymes to the children warning them that if they don't sleep, El Coco will come and get them. The rhyme originated in the 17th century has evolved over the years, but still retaining its original meaning. The term is also used in Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.
- Sweden - in Sweden the Bogeyman is referred to as Monstret under sängen which essentially means "the monster under the bed".
- Switzerland - in Switzerland the Bogeyman is called Böögg and has an important role in the springtime ceremonies. The figure is the symbol of winter and death, so in Sechseläuten ceremony in the City of Zürich, where a figure of the Böögg is burnt.
- Ukraine - eastern part of Ukraine has "babay", possibly due to Russian influence (see entry for Russia above).