In the US, it's common to hear phrases such as:

I caught a stomach bug
There's a bug going around
I was sick with a 24-hour bug

When did bug start being used in such a manner?

Specifically, when did this definition (pulled from M-W.com) come into usage:

3 a : a germ or microorganism especially when causing disease
b : an unspecified or nonspecific sickness usually presumed due to a bug

For further background information:

M-W.com and other dictionaries indicate a first-usage for "bug" in general to be around 1622.

Microorganisms were considered discovered in either 1655 by Robert Hook, or around 1675 by Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek.

So, I wonder if the microorganisms were viewed as "bugs" rather early in the history of the word and the history of microorganisms, or if that terminology was maybe applied later as our understanding and imagery of microorganisms improved.

  • Louis Pasteur? Seeing microorganisms in a microscope hardly represents an understanding that they can call illness, i.e., the germ theory of disease. – Drew Sep 14 '15 at 21:28
  • @Drew The bug term for microorganisms could have existed before the association with illness existed, if the idea of small, living creatures was extended to microorganisms. Then, later it may have taken a negative connotation through association with illness. Which is why I ask. – user116680 Sep 14 '15 at 21:31
  • Sure, the term bug for microorganisms could have been (and probably was) associated with microorganisms. But your question as posed is about the association of these critters with disease - not just the association of the word bug with microorganisms. The discovery of microorganisms was not the same as the discovery that they are linked to disease. – Drew Sep 14 '15 at 22:32

According to the Oxford Dictionary Online the meaning "microbe germ" for the term "bug" was probably due to the idea of catching something unshakeable.

According to Etymoline bug in the

  • sense of "microbe, germ" is from 1919.

Here is how the term has evolved through the centuries:,

  • The earliest use of bug is one which is seldom heard today: ‘an object of terror, usually an imaginary one’, such as a hobgoblin or bogy. This is found as early as the mid-15th century, but fell into disuse when bug became more commonly used as a different word: the name of an insect.

  • Fast forward to the mid-17th century, and bug was being used for a different word altogether: the Cimex lectularius (known as the ‘bed-bug’) and, more broadly, for various insects.

  • Thus the noun largely seems to have stayed for a couple of centuries, but by the mid-19th century, bug could be a person obsessed with an idea or set upon an action.

  • By the early 20th century, bug was also being used for ‘a microbe or germ’, possibly from the idea of catching something unshakeable.

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