Where Did the Bogeyman Come From?

Is the bogeyman under the bed or in your closet?. plastique/Shutterstock

He lurks under beds and behind closet doors. He scratches at windows and may arrive with a sack to carry naughty children away. He's the amorphous and monstrous ace in the pocket for harried parents desperate to make their children behave.

The Bogeyman Around the World

However he may have appeared in your childhood, the bogeyman is the stuff of horror movies and nightmares across the globe. Most cultures and countries have their own version of the bogeyman — and in most incarnations, he's mysterious and ill-defined, letting children's vivid imaginations fill in the missing pieces with the most frightening scenarios they can conceive.

In America, he's usually thought of as the scary evil that lurks beneath the bed, but in many countries — from Latin countries to Europe, the Caribbean and some areas of India and Asia — he's a man with a sack who kidnaps disobedient children, either to keep for a while or to eat them for dinner.

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The bogeyman is a universally feared enigma. Francisco Goya [Public domain]/Wikimedia Commons

The nebulous menace or nefarious man-creature whose primary occupation is that of terrifying children seems to be a concept in most cultures. He's practically universal, which makes tracking down the origin nearly impossible.

Origins of the Bogeyman

Looking at the etymology of the name doesn't narrow things down much, the word bogey is derived from the Middle English bogge/bugge and is hence often thought to be a cognate of the German bögge, böggel-mann (for "bogeyman"). But then again, the word could be linked to many similar words in other European languages. Wikipedia suggests the possibility of any of these sources from bogle (Scots), to boeman (Dutch) to busemann (Norwegian) — and many more.

So where did the bogeyman come from? Everywhere, it would seem. And why not? Creating compliance in children is surely a universal desire, and there's no easier way than to scare the bejesus out of them. Although it seems somewhat cruel to intensify the fears that are already part and parcel of childhood, as long as there are benevolent Santa figures used to affect behavior, the malevolent counterpart will remain alive and well. Because when the promise of presents and candy doesn't work, the threat of being eaten by a monster can be rather persuasive.