No one is quite sure where the word “humbug” came from, but its first known print usage was in 1751 in the Oxford and Cambridge Monthly Miscellany. This publication called humbug “a word very much in vogue with the people of taste and fashion.”
From the same decade (1754), The Universal Jester: Or, a Pocket Companion for the Wits used the word: “merry conceits, facetious drolleries… and humbugs”, showing its original association with tricks or hoaxes.
This relation to deceit had “humbug” associated with “nonsense” or “bother” by the early 19th century, when Charles Dickens was writing. His use in the 1843 A Christmas Carol of “Bah! Humbug!” has since come to invoke Scrooge’s grouchy attitude in any number of situations.
“Humbug” has now become synonymous with a grumpy curmudgeon and its connotation of anti-holiday cheer is widely recognized.
You can even use it as a verb now – to “bah humbug” something would be “to complain one’s way through some experience.” But we guarantee no bah humbuggery if you come to see the Northumberland Players Youth Theatre production of A Christmas Carol at the Concert Hall at Victoria Hall on December 7!
Featured image by John Leech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons