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Bah! Humbug! What Does It Mean?

After having first been exclaimed by the crotchety character Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1843 classic A Christmas Carol by author Charles Dickens, the phrase Bah! Humbug! has become as widely used during the holidays as the phrase Merry Christmas.

As the character of Scrooge is known as one that hates Christmas and all the festivities that go with it, one would logically assume that Humbug! was the nomenclature for those who disliked anything that was considered popular.

Image: CNN

As it turns out, due to the widespread popularity of Dickens’ Victorian classic Christmas story, the word humbug is used, in most instances, as a declaration of distaste.  For example, if you have a friend or family member who is quick to voice their distaste for a particular event or activity, they would be considered to have a bah-humbug attitude.

What many do not realize is that the Scrooge character did not originate the term humbug.  In fact, when he used the term, it was for a more specific meaning than “I hate Christmas!”

The term first appeared in the 1750 edition of The Student, or the Oxford and Cambridge Monthly Miscellany.  In the publication, the term was described as “a word very much in vogue with the people of taste and fashion…though it has not even the penumbra of a meaning.”

Image: David Hall

This definition means that the term was created by the “cool kids” of that era and is considered slang. Its true meaning to this day remains unclear.  Another definition offered in the Oxford English Dictionary states that the phrase is referred to as “a hoax, a jesting or befooling trick or anything which is not really what it pretends to be.”

In a nutshell, Humbug refers to something considered a fraud, a sham, or a trick.  Over time, it became a general term for nonsense.