Bah, humbug!

Lennonka

New Member
Polish
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.
     

    zapateado

    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.
     

    Æsop

    Banned
    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."
     
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