I love to boogie.

My interest in linguistics began with our move to Oregon when I was seven years old. They talked funny at Pistol River school.  I began to notice variations in our language at this very young age. Most words were the same–Southern Oregon coast is only about 500 miles from Sacramento, California, but there were a few words that really stood out to my pre-adolescent brain. Kids made fun of me because, instead of pronouncing “bag” to rhyme with “egg”, they pronounced “bag” as if it rhymed with “hag.”  And, another rememberance: they didn’t say “boogeyman”–but “boogerman.”

Clay model of Boogerman, an infamous burping, farting hero from a 2004 video game.

Remember him? Whether you called him bogeyman, or boogeyman, or boogerman, we Anglicized kids were all told that some creature lives under your bed, or in your dark closet, and that he will get you if you’re not careful. He lives off stale socks and empty root beer cans, and he is waiting for you to stick your leg over the edge of the bed before first light, so he can pick his teeth with your shin bone. They’ve made a series of 3 feature-lengthy horror films (loosely based, I think, on a Stephen King short story), and dozens of children’s books.  Whatever you think of boogers, or bogeys, or boggarts (the Swiss call him the Böögg, which is even scarier sounding), the idea is deeply embedded in Western culture. Boogey and its manifestations come from the middle English “bogge”, which means bug.  So, for a thousand-ish years, we’ve been talking about “the bugman”. OK. I’ll grant our ancestors this: the idea is scary. The Spanish have the Sack man and the Latin America has the Coconut man (sort of like our headless horseman). The Koreans have the persimmon man (scary enough to frighten away tigers). Every culture seems to have the monsters that feast on naughty childrens’ flesh.

But Boogerman?

How scary is that? When I was a kid, my first thoughts were “What’s a boogerman do? Wipe dried mucus on you?”  Of course, John Travolta was the original Boogie Man, so I didn’t have much moral ground to stand firmly upon.

Bluto on your left; Booger on your right.

This word got me to thinking this morning.  I have gone years without saying, or even thinking, the word “booger”, or at least if I have, it was just in passing.  Revenge of the Nerds had a character named Booger. He was famous for his disgustingly loud burp–he generally-uncouth ne’er-do-well cut from the fabric of John Belushi’s  Bluto in Animal House.

The original Boogie Man.

But I’m getting off the track a bit.  I meant to talk about boogers.  What an interesting word. I don’t know how the world it came to mean “a dried piece of nose mucus.” Years later, I learned that the British call boogers “bogeys”–Ginny Weasley from the Harry Potter novels cast an amazing flying Bat Bogey Hex (dunno what that is but the mental image is a great one). A series of household English monsters variously called Bogeys, Boggards, Bogarts, Boogers, etc.  I don’t know if they have anything to do with the nose stuff. The french call boogers “Crottes de nez”, which isn’t as funny-sounding a term as booger–it’s on a par with “toe-jam,” perhaps, or “pit stain.”  But, in Englishwe  don’t need to reference where the booger came from–we know.  They come from your nose. The booger stands on its own (another rather disgusting mental image).

Double decker outhouse at Booger Holler, Arkansas ("Population 7, Counten One Coon Dog").

And here are a few facts you need to know.

  • Booger has nothing to do with “bugger” (I think…), which in America, means “generally nasty person or problem” and in England means “someone who engages in anal sex.”
  • Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for “booger” or even “bogey”, but they have a pagelong article on “dried nasal mucus”. This alone should allow you to sleep soundly, folks.
  • Stefan Gates, in his nasty book Gastronaut, claims that 44% of people he questioned said they had eaten their own dried nasal mucus in adulthood and said they liked it.
  • A lung specialist in Switzerland claims that picking your nose (and eating it) is beneficial to a person’s immune system. I assume he means picking your OWN nose and eating you OWN boogers.
  • The 2007 a German feature article tells us that Theodore Pabst went several weeks surviving on nothing but snot, and believed it had cleansed his body of contaminants that are found in our environment today.

Grossed out yet?

I tell you all this because, well, you know the old saying: You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t wipe your friends on the couch.

Ahhh, linguistics.


3 thoughts on “I love to boogie.”

  1. My own interest in language variations came at about the same age. We were in Missouri visiting family, and my aged great-aunt, pointing at the screen door my brother had just left open, said, “JoothAnn, gwan ovah der an’ shit dat doah.” I looked helplessly at my dad, thinking she’d asked me to do something quite nasty, because I understood two things from that sentence: my name (Judith Ann) and ‘shit’.


  2. Our senior class president used that quote in closing his speech at commencement: “You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose…” Classy. Some things just need to be said 🙂


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