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I have recently heard the phrase bugger-lugs used to refer to a person present, as in "How much do I owe you, bugger-lugs?". I have also heard it used to refer to a moderately mischievous child ("what have you been up to, bugger-lugs?"), and I can also remember my mother using the phrase to refer to the cat, in the same way as the mischievous child.

But does anyone know where the phrase comes from? I have tried a search and found the results here, which doesn't shed much light on the matter. Green's Dictionary of Slang suggests it is an affectionate term of address, usually among men, and hints at a naval origin, but otherwise sheds no light on the matter.

Edit following Hugo's link produces possibly an alternative meaning:-

"Well known in 40s / 50s Lancashire. For many years I thought it was 'bug-a-lugs', never having seen it written ... gross or corpulent habit' from fusty + lug.('lug' in the sense of heavy or slow) Perhaps from buggy-lugs or bugs-in-lugs?"

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Green's 'Dictionary of Slang' is presumably the same as 'Chambers Slang Dictionary' edited by Jonathon Green. –  Barrie England Nov 8 '11 at 21:45
    
It is probably a more comprehensive version: see here –  Brian Hooper Nov 8 '11 at 22:00
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I found this when searching for the one word buggerlugs: englishforums.com/English/Buggerlugs/2/wngxv/Post.htm –  Hugo Nov 8 '11 at 22:03
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@Hugo, thank you for that. I have added this possible alternative meaning to the question. –  Brian Hooper Nov 8 '11 at 22:13
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@BrianHooper: Wow, that looks pretty comprehensive. I didn't know it existed. 'Chambers Slang Dictionary' also has the verb 'buggerlug' (to waste time on trivial activities) and the noun 'bugger-lugger' (one who does such). I assume Green's 'Dictionary of Slang' has them as well. –  Barrie England Nov 9 '11 at 8:19
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10 Answers 10

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The Urban Dictionary explains it thus:

Consider the two parts of this phrase,

bugger: (verb) to sodomize

lugs: (noun) ears

Put these together and you get bugger-lugs: ears of a size large enough to afford good grip while being sodomized.

I should add that I've heard this phrase my entire life, and never as a term of affection. In my experience (Australian English) it's a playful insult, usually aimed at a small child.

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"Ears of a size large enough to afford good grip while being sodomized" aimed at a child? I fear for these children. –  Mahnax Nov 9 '11 at 0:47
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I'd be suspicious of that etymology. Excellent though the Urban Dictionary is in many ways, it suffers from a lack of scholarly evidence. –  Barrie England Nov 9 '11 at 8:22
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Thank you, @Snubian, I suspected this might be the origin of the phrase; I suppose the real question is how it came to be used in the way it is. –  Brian Hooper Nov 10 '11 at 12:37
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I'm with Barrie on this one. This was the etymology that immediately sprang to mind when I read the question title: which is generally a good sign that in a similar fashion, someone else made it up. –  Benjol Dec 21 '11 at 12:33
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-1 If that were the true etymology it wouldn't be such a popular phrase. –  ukayer May 9 '13 at 22:50
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I am 54 years old while writing this. I was born and raised in Scotland and have lived here all my life.

Buggerlugs was an expression used to describe a child as a third party to another adult. It is definitely affectionate and has nothing to do with buggery.

It may have some etymology in the word 'buggered' - as in (UK) broken, and obviously lugs which are (Scots) ears.

It is a playful expression and no-one ever saw any harm in it. My grandmother - born in 1910 and a very proper, protestant woman used it and she never used foul language.

It would be used such as "You'd better take buggerlugs with you. She doesn't like to miss out."

It could also be used to describe a family pet. 'Buggerlugs hasn't been out yet. He's sittin' there with his legs crossed.'

It could (marginally) be used by one man to another when describing a male superior (military rank/landowner/manager etc) "You'd better not let buggerlugs see you doing that; he'll have your guts for garters."

It could also be used to describe an inferior (apprentice) as in, 'It was running fine until buggerlugs here pushed the stop button and shut it down.'

Mostly though it was a harmless affectionate expression widely used, very innocently, to describe a child or pet.

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I come from s.England (not Scotland) and would endorse everything said in the above answer (except that I have no knowledge of workplace usage). –  TrevorD Jun 29 '13 at 23:40
    
I know that an older person from Canada's East Coast referred to the family dog as "Buggerlugs" whilst roughhousing with the mutt. It was definitely affectionate, and was not modified when ladies or children were about. There are plenty of folks with Scottish ancestry in Canada's Maritime provinces. –  Spehro Pefhany May 11 at 18:47
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My apologies for the paucity of my information in Green's Dictionary of Slang / Chambers Slang Dictionary. I remain convinced that it is essentially affectionate. As regards its use in Lancashire, I have no doubt it was, and elsewhere too, but even if it was originally dialectal (i.e. a regional use) it must have been a 20th century creation, since it doesn't appear in Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary (1905). If anything, the phrase was popularised by its rhyming assonance.

Might I also suggest that the reference to sodomy is a confusion by the writer with 'bugger's grips', which refer to sideburns / sideboards and which term does indeed convey that imagery.

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I have memories of the expression "Boggerlugs" or "Buggerlugs" in the English midlands back in the 50's. It was used extensively in our neighbourhood. It was used as a tone of endearment when referring to a mischievous young family member: "You're such a boggerlugs". Indeed, I use it today when referring to a mischievous grandchild, it was always used with a smile on the face and never used as a re-dress or ticking off.

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I found this as definition #4 here: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Buggerlugs and I think it stands a better chance of being the correct or most appropriate etymology than some of the references above.

An affectionate term for a child, particularly when it isn't listening to the adult, the implication being that the child's ears (lugs) have been fucked (or buggered) and can no longer hear as a result. "Oy, buggerlugs, are you listening?"

I was called this many times as a child back in the UK. It could be from the North (Yorkshire or Northumberland).

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I agree it's more likely to come from this definition. It's very common to call someone a 'silly bugger' without the literal meaning of committing sodomy. –  Mynamite May 9 '13 at 23:18
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I've tracked down the first written appearance of "buggerlugs" to the book 'Life and adventure in the south Pacific':

"Shiver my timbers! old buggerlugs, if you don't come to terms pretty soon, I'll treat you to a salt-water bath; three quarters, or away you go."

'A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English' defines "buggerlugs" as being nautical slang meaning:

"Those little tufts of hair which are sometimes seen on men's cheekbones." Cf. "bugger's grips".

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I totally agree with what Bruce has said above. I grew up in New Zealand and am currently 60 years old. I and my contempories used the term 'Buggerlugs' in each of the situations described by Bruce. My parents and their friends also used the term in similar ways. There was never any sexual intent in the usage. I am now living in Australia and the term is still used to this day by many acquantances, again in the same fashion.

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I never heard the expression before moving to Lancashire (1957) from the West Riding (now South Yorkshire). So where it originated I have no idea. It is uncommon in the Midlands where I live now.

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My mother used it all the time; it was common in my day in Australia for parents to call their kids buggerlugs as a playful term when you were mucking up or not listening.

I still use it occasionally myself, but I don’t ever remember it being used as a derogatory comment at children. Being the little bugger I was as a kid, it was almost my second name.

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I'm about to reach my three-score and ten years, and spent my formative ones of those in Norfolk. The only context in which I ever heard bugger-lugs used was derogatory for a person who deliberately listened-in on other people's conversations.

For example, said by one mother to another; in the presence of her child:

'Sorry, can't tell you now, Bugger-Lugs is listening'.

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