When Charles Dickens first had Ebenezer Scrooge utter the words, “Christmas, bah humbug,” six days before the holiday in 1843, what did the English author have in mind?
Was Scrooge comparing the holiday to an insect? No. But it was nothing good either.
The word humbug first made its way into the English language as slang about 100 years before Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol,” according to the Miriam Webster online dictionary and my college version of Webster’s New World Dictionary.
Neither dictionary nor an online search shed much light into the meaning of the word in the 1750’s other than it was used by college students.
By the time Dickens penned the utterance into the vocabulary for use by a man whose name has become synonymous with miser it had a meaning. It was “something designed to deceive or mislead” or “an attitude or spirit of pretense or deception,” according to Miriam Webster.
The New World Dictionary also uses words like fraud, sham, hoax, misleading, dishonest and empty talk.
In other words, before Scrooge got his visit from the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future 169 years ago tonight, he was calling the Yuletide holiday something about as bad as one would in Victorian England.