Definition of bugbear in English:



  • 1A cause of obsessive fear, anxiety, or irritation.

    ‘the biggest villain is that adman's bugbear, saturated fat’
    • ‘Marie-Antoinette was a Habsburg, and thus from the moment of her arrival in France in 1770 the bugbear of the Richelieu-d'Aiguillon faction, which hated the Austrian alliance.’
    • ‘Difficulties concerning preemption have proven to be the biggest bugbear for Lewis's theory.’
    • ‘The lack of accountability in this area has been one of my bugbears for a few years, so while welcome, it's very, very late in the day and seems to have been prompted by an IMC report.’
    • ‘But I shall leave those bugbears for another day.’
    • ‘Braintree councillors are concerned the town is becoming choked with traffic since the new A120 opened and fear the problem is proving a major bugbear for local residents.’
    • ‘It's the same thing with phones - one of my personal bugbears.’
    • ‘The trouble is that, unless he can get his squad in place early in the summer, Allardyce fears he could encounter the cold start problems that have been a major bugbear of the past two seasons.’
    • ‘Cooke insists the device will speed up the pace of play, one of the biggest bugbears in the increasingly popular sport.’
    • ‘Youth nuisance is the main bugbear in this town and we are working hard to stamp it out.’
    • ‘In some ways life is a battle against these bugbears.’
    • ‘The major bugbear for anyone involved with Hearts is the continuing problems with Tynecastle Stadium.’
    • ‘GPs who refuse to treat patients with drug problems or refuse to put them on methadone are one of McCartney's biggest bugbears.’
    • ‘The M8's four lanes are regarded by hundreds of thousands of Scots as one of the biggest bugbears of their working lives.’
    • ‘As well as litter, the major bugbears identified by council tenants include vandalism and graffiti, which take second and third place in the council's league of perceived problems.’
    • ‘In fact, loading times are a real bugbear in Total Club Manager but this is a problem for the PlayStation 2, not the game itself.’
    • ‘A police spokesman said: ‘We are hoping we can make some inroads because the damage these kids are causing is one of the major bugbears in the town.’’
    • ‘Point to this program, and a bevy of bugbears, from disaffected employees to muckraking journalists, will disappear.’
    • ‘Not a big bugbear, just a minor irritation with no consequences.’
    • ‘Now making phone calls has become one of my bugbears.’
    • ‘Directors said rising costs, new regulations and the difficulty of raising capital are the new bugbears.’
    pet hate, hate, bane, irritant, irritation, dislike, anathema, aversion, vexation, thorn in one's flesh, thorn in one's side, bane of one's life
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  • 2archaic An imaginary being invoked to frighten children, typically a sort of hobgoblin supposed to devour them.

    • ‘Mormo was a female spectre, with which the Greeks used to frighten little children. Mormo was one of the same class of bugbears as Empusa and Lamia.’
    • ‘Some frighten their children with beggars, bugbears or hobgoblins if they cry, or be otherwise unruly’
    • ‘One of these, Francis Moore, wrote: ‘A dreadful bugbear to the women is called Mumbo Jumbo, which keeps the women in awe.’’
    • ‘Mermaids are supposed to abound in the ponds and ditches in this neighbourhood. Careful mothers use them as bugbears to prevent little children from going too near the water.’


Late 16th century: probably from obsolete bug ‘bogey’ (of unknown origin) + bear.