1 : an imaginary goblin or specter used to excite fear
2 a : an object or source of dread
b : a continuing source of irritation : problem
Did You Know?
Bugbear sounds like some kind of grotesque hybrid creature from fable or folklore, and that very well may be what the word’s creator was trying to evoke. When the word entered English in the 16th century, it referred to any kind of creature made up to frighten someone; in 1592, Thomas Nashe wrote of “Meere bugge-beares to scare boyes.” The word’s first element refers not to the familiar creatures one encounters in the garden, but to a different bug entirely: since the 15th century, bug (from Middle English bugge, meaning “hobgoblin”—that is, a mischievous goblin) has referred to a ghost or goblin. The bear in bugbear is the one still feared today, and suggests what such made-up creatures were perhaps described as resembling.
“Taxation without representation was famously a bugbear of American colonists in the 18th century.” — The Economist, 2 July 2020
“Why? Why? What a beast of a word that is—the detective’s bugbear. I thought I had it, until you said—Great Scott! I’ll tell you why.” — P. G. Wodehouse, Something New, 1915