I’d almost be willing to post Claire Moses’ NY Times story (archived) just for the bare existence of the word Böögg, but I’ll use the proposed etymology in the last quoted paragraph as a hook:

Imagine if Punxsutawney Phil just didn’t show up one year. How would people know how much longer winter would last? People in Zurich found themselves in a similar state of limbo this week.

On Monday, high winds disrupted the city’s annual spring festival, a Swiss version of Groundhog Day that includes a parade and the ceremonial burning of a fake snowman — an effigy of winter — whose head is packed with fireworks.

The parades went off without a hitch. But when the time came for the festival’s grand finale, the burning and explosion of the snowman atop a pyre, high winds kicked up and the ceremony was scuttled for safety reasons.

The festival, Sechseläuten, takes place on the third Monday of April. Its name roughly translates to “the six o’clock ringing of the bells.” The snowman is called the Böögg, a term that likely has its roots in the English word boogeyman.

Böögg < boogeyman? Can that possibly be right?


  1. More likely, boogey[man] and Böögg are cognates.

  2. Here is Bȫgg in the Schweizerisches Idiotikon. (I hope other LH readers investigate this. I have limited internet at the moment.)

  3. Wow, it’s worth it just for the sentence “Könnsch du Dën, wo dō im Beijassenchleid derhër chunnt mit der Glögglichappen uff und der Brätschen in der Hand?”

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    From wiktionary’s etymology of the relevant “bogey”: ‘Probably related to or alteration of bogle, akin to or from a variant of Middle English bugge (“frightening specter, scarecrow”), perhaps from obsolete Welsh bwg (“ghost, hobgoblin”; compare Welsh bwgwl (“threat”, older “fear”)) or from Proto-Germanic *bugja- (“swollen up, thick”) (compare Norwegian bugge (“big man”), dialectal Low German Bögge and Alemannic German Böögg (“goblin”, “snot”) from Proto-Germanic *pūkô (“a goblin, spook”), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)pāug(‘)- (“brilliance, spectre”)). Perhaps the Middle English and Welsh words come from a word related to buck and originally referred to a goat-shaped specter.’ So the scholarly consensus may be that perhaps it’s cognate but perhaps it isn’t.

    I also learned of an entirely unrelated “bogey” found in Australian English, which means to swim or bathe and is said to be a loanword from Dharug

  5. just for the sentence

    which is giving severe indigestion to both translator apps I tried. DeepL does better if I split ‘… Glögglich appen …’ = glow-in-the-dark(?)

    (Just remind me: what is it translator apps are supposed to be adequate for?)

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m not sure if the standard translation software is designed for Swiss dialect-spelling input.

    I note with disappointment that the NYT uses the boring standard spelling Sechseläuten instead of what wikipedia informs me is the local spelling “Sächsilüüte.”

  7. PlasticPaddy says

    Try Std. G “Kennst du den [Mann] im Paillassenkleid [paillasse is from French, I am not sure what the Std. G for this is], der hierher kommt mit der Narrenkappe [lit. Glöckleinkappe] auf und der Pritsche in der Hand”
    This is Bernese, I think. I do not know where you find an online translator.

  8. On Paillassenkleid, see for example the etymology here: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pagliaccio

    And in the TLFi here, paillasse 2 “bateleur”: https://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/paillasse

  9. Also possibly related to “bugbear” and… two words in the Kipling title “Puck of Pook’s Hill”?

  10. So, apparently related to J R R Tolkien’s Púkel-men … 🙂

  11. Ben Tolley says

    ‘Fake snowman’ is a bit misleading – the Böögg looks like a snowman, but I don’t think he ever has been, or is been intended to be one. For another great Swiss German folk tradition-related word, try Tschäggättä.

  12. David Marjanović says

    Proto-Germanic *bugja- (“swollen up, thick”) (compare Norwegian bugge (“big man”)

    Ah, that must be where big comes from.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    From wiktionary’s etymology of the relevant “bogey”

    All wrong. It comes from the Kusaal bʋg “get drunk.” The semantic shift is a natural one.

  14. big < Norwegian bugge: “Must be” is a considerable overstatement. That suggestion is in Pokorny, but OED (2008) declined to accept it, rating it no higher than “It is possible that the English word could show a borrowing < early Scandinavian”. The earliest records of the adjective are from the 1300s in chiefly northern sources, but the problem is complicated by the surname Bigge, known from the 11th-13th centuries but only in southern counties, so it may not be the same word.

    Big-pig-bug-bogey-etc. is one of Anatoly Liberman’s favorite sound-symbolic clusters.

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    One of the reasons that Böögg looks wacky is that I take it in the standard orthography for standard Hochdeutsch it is essentially impossible to have a doubled vowel with an umlaut, or two different umlauted vowels adjacent to each other. (Maybe this flows naturally from the phonotactics of the standard variety; maybe it’s an artifact of the spelling rules; doesn’t really matter which.) Some non-umlauted verbs can get doubled – wikipedia gives Saat, See, and Moor as examples. So it must be the umlauts that makes it look so non-standard. There is of course the great krautrock band Amon Düül II, but the Düül was reportedly a not-previously-attested word that they (or rather folks in the weird-beard Munich hippie art collective the band grew out of) just made up.

  16. It makes more sense in Schwiizertüütsch.

  17. Standard German uses mostly silent h for vowel length, doubling exists, but not as often. Doubled umlaut graphemes are indeed avoided. In fact, umlauted aa is single ä (Saal, Säle; Saat, säen).

    Double umlaut vowels are common in Low Saxon (Sass standard).

    Double g as well doesn’t mean the same thing in Standard German and in Swiss German. (I think it’s used for /k/ as opposed to /kx/ in Swiss German, but I’m not sure.)

  18. David Marjanović says

    Kind of; it’s used for the long velar plosive, as found in words that had long voiced velar plosives before the High German consonant shift and in loans whose originals have fortis unaspirated [k], most famously Schoggi < chocolat (truncated and the nickname suffix added).

  19. Lars Skovlund says

    Bög in Swedish means gay. I’m not up to date on its sociolinguistics, but Wiktionary tells me that attitudes have changed. Maybe you could spell it Böögg if you wanted to imply the offensive meaning.

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    Bööggs make me think of Peer Gynt.

  21. Trond Engen says

    “Huh?”, I thought, and then “Oh, Bøygen!”

    And I’ve even been thinking about introducing Bøygen in the Yudifovna thread.

  22. ktschwarz says

    Also possibly related to “bugbear” and… two words in the Kipling title “Puck of Pook’s Hill”?

    That does need a question mark. OED s.v. puck : “It is unclear if there is any connection with bug n.1, bog n.2, bogey n.2, all of which are first attested later.” Puck is recorded since Old English, has Scandinavian cognates meaning evil spirits, and is “Frequently attested in place names, chiefly in southern England … it was reputedly a hill visible from Kipling’s house near Burwash, Sussex, that inspired the title of Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906).” The bug* monsters are recorded only later: in chronological order, (late Middle English) bug; (Early Modern) bogle/bogill/boggle, bog, bugbear, boggart, bogle-bo, etc.; (1700s) bugaboo; (1800s) bogey, bogeyman.

    They also say the Irish pooka is from a Scandinavian language or English, and Welsh pwca is from English.

  23. @Xerîb

    Here is Bȫgg in the Schweizerisches Idiotikon. (I hope other LH readers investigate this. I have limited internet at the moment.)

    Now I’m tempted to adopt Bīggi into my active vocabulary. ☺

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    GPC says (without any question marks) that not only is Welsh pwca from Middle English, but so is bwg. Wiktionary seems to be fantasising.

    (I can’t actually see how bwg even could be cognate with “bug.” If it were Celtic, the g would have to go back to *k. That it was borrowed from Welsh into Middle English sounds like something only John McWhorter would find plausible, with his mysterious covens of Welsh speakers lurking in England up to the late Middle English period, teaching the English how to use “do” as an auxiliary verb.)

  25. ktschwarz says

    OED concurs that Welsh bwg is “probably < English”, because of its “late date” (early 17th cent.), and cites some further Celtic hobgoblin words:

    Compare also (apparently with a suffix forming diminutives) Irish bocán, Scottish Gaelic bòcan, Manx boagane, buggane goblin …, all denoting a kind of supernatural being, of uncertain origin, perhaps ultimately < a Germanic language. Perhaps compare also (apparently with a further derivative suffix) Early Irish bocánach, kind of supernatural being associated with battle. It is possible that these Celtic words ultimately all go back to reflexes of the possible Germanic base discussed at puck n.1, although the exact routes of transmission are unclear.

    There’s also the bucca of Cornish folklore, a sea spirit that also haunts mines.

  26. mysterious covens of Welsh speakers lurking in England up to the late Middle English period

    Like Margaret Murray’s pagan witches.

  27. The continued conflation of witchcraft with (neo)-paganism (for which we largely have Murray to thank) is soooo annoying.

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