Bah, humbug!


New Member
Perhaps it is not an appropriate place to ask this question, but I'll try anyway. I would like to know what the expression "Bah humbug" actually means. I know that it comes from Charles Dickens' novel "A Christmas Carol" and it was a saying of Ebenezer Scrooge. As wikipedia puts it - "Bah , humbug" is often used to express disgust with many of the modern Christmas traditions. I would like to ask what "bah" means, how you pronounce "Bah, humbug", how often and in what context it is used, and if it is or may be considered offensive? Thank you in advance for your answer(s).
  • bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    "Bah" is simply an expression of disdain, suggesting disinterest or disbelief.

    I doubt that it is used by many people these days outside of novels; I wouldn't consider it offensive, but neither would I call it polite.

    Because of the popularity of A Christmas Carol, "Bah, humbug" is almost inevitably associated with disgust for Christmastime activities, often in a jocular or playful manner.

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    "Bah" is an interjection expressing contempt, similar to others (expressing different things) such as: "Huh!", "Hah!", "Faugh!", "Fie!", etc. Although they are often not definite sounds in speech, they have attracted set literary spellings.

    "Humbug" is an old slang (or "cant") word from the 18th century, referring to a fraud, hoax, etc. So the two words don't make a set expression as such (only that it has become so because of Dickens), but have individual meanings.

    It's "offensive" only in that it is contemptuous, but it's not offensive in the sense of "swear word" or "four-letter word".
    Bah, humbug! is a phrase that is only used in relation to Christmas, precisely because Dickens' character Scrooge used in in "A Christmas Carol". People sometimes use it jokingly if they're feeling glum about Christmas. I've never heard it used in any other context.

    Bah is just an expletive. It has no meaning. Humbug means a hoax, fraud or sham. It's origin is unknown, according to the dictionaries. It is first recorded in the 18th century. It's also the name of a striped mint sweet, but there's no relationship that I know of between the two meanings.


    Senior Member
    English USA
    The expression is two ideas. Bah is an expression of feeling, perhaps of derision or impatience, as when something seems pointless, bothersome, untrue. It doesn't name or describe what the bothersome thing may be. Humbug is closer to describing what the bothersome thing is: something that is a trick or a hoax.
    It is so closely associated with Scrooge that most listeners would probably understand it as a parody of Scrooge, and so: a bit of a joke.


    English--American (upstate NY)
    Besides a noun meaning "a fraud, deception," "humbug" is also a noun meaning someone who perpetrates a fraud or deception and a verb meaning to perpetrate a fraud or deception: A humbug is a person who humbugs others. "Bah, humbug" is elliptical. When someone says to Scrooge, "Merry Christmas!"--itself an elliptical phrase for "Have a merry Christmas" or "I wish you [to have] a merry Christmas," his reply, "Bah, humbug" is elliptical for "Bah, it [Christmas] is a fraud" or "Bah, you are insincere in wishing me a 'merry Christmas,' you don't care whether it's merry for me or not."


    "I am a bit of Bah humbug stick in the mud, aren't I?"

    A grumpy husband moaned to his wife on BBC .

    I am told it means " I am a miserable bugger."

    I am wondering if it's a proper explanation 🤩
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    Senior Member
    USA English
    I am told it means " I am a miserable bugger."

    I am wondering if it's a proper explanation 🤩
    WordReference Random House Learner's Dictionary of American English © 2022
    hum•bug /ˈhʌmˌbʌg/ n.
    1. [uncountable]something intended to fool, trick, or deceive others.
    2. [countable]a person who is not what he or she claims to be;
      an impostor.
    3. [uncountable]meaningless or empty talk;


    A stick in a mud is a metaphor or a joke about how worthless he is in the eyes of his wife 🤩

    Edit: the speaker is a 56 years old man.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    English - England
    A stick-in-the-mud (hyphenated) is an expression meaning 'an old fogey', or an 'old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy, unadventurous, conservative, old fossil.'

    It's only mildly pejorative.


    Senior Member
    British English
    "Bah humbug" is importantly different with "humbug".

    --- without bah, the word 'humbug' means false, deceptive, dishonest, etc;
    --- 'bah humbug!' is an expression of disdain, being grumpy, or when someone disliked something which other people do like.

    A: Would you like some tea and cake?
    OR: I love yoga and meditation.
    B: Bah humbug! I'm going to the pub and have a curry!