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'Buggins' turn' refers to the practice of assigning appointments to persons in rotation, rather than on merit. The OED records this and gives examples of its use from 1901.

As regards etymology it just says 'typical proper name used generically'. But why Buggins? Does anyone know who the original Buggins was? Or was it a name that was earlier used in the way Joe Bloggs is today? Sounds the sort of surname Dickens might have created but he is not found in a list of characters.

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  • Buggins actually appears in HG Wells' Kipps (pub 1905): "Where have you been?" said Buggins, who was now reading the Daily World Manager, which came to him in rotation from Carshot. (My emphasis)
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 11:16
  • @Andrew Leach Interesting! Strange though that the OED has an example from 1901. I'm wondering if H.G.wells was the originator or simply riding on the back of an existing metaphor. 'Fisher Let. 13 Jan. in A. J. Marder Fear God & Dread Nought (1952) I. 181 Favouritism was the secret of our efficiency in the old days... Going by seniority saves so much trouble. ‘Buggins's turn’ has been our ruin and will be disastrous hereafter!'
    – WS2
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 12:36
  • Might be worth your time to place a bounty. It would be excellent if someone could confirm or refute Simon Lamb and Stephen Gadd's answers.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 13:30

4 Answers 4

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Simon Lamb (below) may have nearly got there with his answer; Lady Cecilia's first father-in-law was one Barrington Buggin, whom Brian Dietz speculated was the original subject of the expression. In the mid-eighteenth century Buggin controlled more than half of London's Legal Quays, and as leader of the wharfingers was succeeded by his son of the same name in 1780 - because (it was noted) "Barrington Buggins stands next in turn".

See https://snr.org.uk/note-buggins-turn/

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  • Are you able to supply the article? It seems that one needs to join in order to gain access. +1 for the find. But before assigning the correct answer I would like to read the whole thing.
    – WS2
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 18:30
  • 1
    Sorry, I don't have access, either, but there's a tantalising (and confirmatory) first page of correspondence relating to the article available on open access: tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00253359.1993.10656440 Commented May 20, 2018 at 12:24
  • @WS2 perhaps you were not notified (Stephen Gadd you should place @ in front of username) but Gadd has posted an interesting reference.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 13:32
  • The "below" or "above" is changeable depending on the parameters used by a visitor "active" (most recent at top), "oldest" (top), "votes" (idem)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 13:34
4

According to the following source it appears that there is no reference to a real person:

'Unlike the Hobson of Hobson's choice, Buggins wasn't a real person. Buggins is one of the generic names, like John Smith, Joe Blow etc., that were given to the typical man in the street, or as the British used to say, 'the man on the Clapham omnibus'. Incidentally, having been in Clapham recently I noticed (and before the race police start sharpening their pens - I am quite happy with this) the man on the Clapham omnibus is now much more likely to be called Mohammed than Buggins. A reference to the undistinguished nature of Buggins as a name was printed in The New York Times in August, 1859:'

'The name Buggins may have been coined by sailing folk. The first instances of the term 'Buggins turn' in print come from the British admiral John Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher of Kilverstone, who used it more than once in his letters. An example of such a use was printed in A. J. Marder's collection of Fisher's correspondence, Fear God & Dread Nought, 1952. In that publication, Marder reproduced a letter from Lord Fisher, written in 1901:'

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  • Yes. This does seem to suggest that H.G.Wells was using an existing idea. See @Andrew Leach above.
    – WS2
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 12:43
2

Buggins appears in Anthony Trollope's Barchester Chronicles. He was a civil servant who was leaving his job, and a large number of possible candidates were pursuing the position. Pre-dates all other suggestions - i.e. 19th century.

--

Editing to add a reference to this potentially intriguing answer.

"Now, would you believe it? I have used up three lifts of note-paper already in telling people that there is no vacancy for a lobby messenger in the Petty Bag office. Seven peeresses have asked for it for their favourite footmen. . . ."

Buggins was the messenger for whose not vacant place all the peeresses were striving with so much animation.

(Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage, Ch. XVIII. Originally published 1860, per Wikipedia.)

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  • Well done. Would you like to provide a reference and how it gives rise to the expression Buggins' turn and I will mark it as the correct answer. I also believe, if it is the case that it comes from Trollope, that the OED would be interested in hearing about it!
    – WS2
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 11:26
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2nd wife of the Duke of Sussex (6th son of George Third) was Lady Cecilia Buggin. They married in 1831. His 1st marriage was annulled because he had not sought the permission of his father, the King!

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  • Welcome to ELU.SE. This site strives to provide objective answers. As it stands your answer is purely subjective and could be improved by adding references. Take the tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good answers.
    – Helmar
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 17:12

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