I heard about about the term 'bumfiddler' from a E-Newsletter I receive, and I was wondering the etymology of this term?

Is it a purely sexual phrase, or does it have a more mainstream / normal usage?

This website seems to define it as:

- A busybody / fidgety person.

Is, or should I say, was this a real / used word?

  • It's featured in 50 Words That Sound Rude But Actually Aren't To bumfiddle means to pollute or spoil something, in particular by scribbling or drawing on a document to make it invalid. A bumfiddler is someone who does precisely that. Which implies it's not even "rude", let alone "sexual". But Partridge has the etymology as a pun on ars musica (the musical arts, I assume). Dec 15, 2015 at 21:02

2 Answers 2


The Gentleman's Magazine Library - Dialect, Proverbs and Word-lore (edited by George Laurence Gomme) says that bumfiddle might be a corruption of the term bound-bailiff but doesn't include the source of the corruption:

The learned author of the " Commentary on the Laws of England" has clearly shown (b. i. c 9, 8vo. edit, p. 346) that another word, to which the same monosyllable is now usually prefixed, has suffered an alteration by the common people; for that " bound-bailiff" was the original term : and possibly this may have been the case in the word before mentioned, though I am not deeply enough versed in antiquarian lore to discover the source of the corruption.

However, according to OED, the noun bumfiddle, meaning bum, is from 1675 and the noun bound-bailiff is from 1768. Thus, the vulgar meaning bumfiddle might be earlier than the non-vulgar meaning.

OED defines bound-bailiff as a name given by Blackstone to the sheriff's officer in explanation of the vulgar term bumbailiff:

The sheriff being answerable for the misdemesnors of these bailiffs, they are therefore usually bound in a bond for the due execution of their office, and thence are called bound-bailiffs.

1768 W. Blackstone Comm. Laws Eng. I. 346

OED defines bumbailiff as a contemptuous synonym of bailiff which means an officer of justice under a sheriff, who executes writs and processes, distrains, and arrests; a warrant officer, pursuivant, or catchpoll.

According to OED, the etymology of bumbaillif is apparently < bum + bailiff : i.e. the bailiff that is close at the debtor's back, or that catches him in the rear. Compare the French equivalent pousse-cul , colloquially shortened to cul, precisely like the English.

The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang (by Eric Partridge) says that the derivative bumfiddler, meaning a fornicator, is from 17th century and rare. Here is the excerpt of the definition of bum-fiddle:

enter image description here

A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature (by Gordon Williams) includes different slang meanings of bumfiddle in different works. It says that the term is a slippery one ranging from bum to bumbaste. The term is also used for coital and vaginal sense. You can read further in Google Books.

Another similar term is bumfeagle which also means bumbaste: to beat on the buttocks (dialectal, England). [MW]

Here is the excerpt from The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang: enter image description here


Bumfiddler :

  • A lecherous or promiscuous man. See philanderer for synonyms.

The origin is from bum +fiddle and its usage appears to be quite old:


= bum n.1 (The buttocks, the part on which we sit; the posteriors)

  • 1675 Cotton Burlesque in Poet. Wks. (1765) 231 So her Bum-fiddle I had clapp'd.
  • 1810 W. Hickey Mem. (1960) xix. 311, I, of course, shall pay, and they may kiss my bum fiddle. 1825 H. Wilson Mem. I. 91, I am puzzled to guess..how, you came to shew me, an utter stranger, your bum-fiddle!

also bumfiddler:

  • 1560 Trag. Rich. II (1870) 4 2 To say I will teare this paper..or fowler words than that, as to say I will bumfidle your paper.

  • 1611 Davies Scourge Folly in Wright Dict. Obs. & Prov. Eng., A busie-body hardly she abides; Yet she's well-pleased with all bumfidlers.

  • 1618 Fletcher Chances i. vi, And am I now bumfidl'd with a Bastard?


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