I was watching a TV show about an air crash where an air traffic controller was partly responsible for the crash. In an interview an official says:

"You don't deserve to be a boogeyman for everybody."

I did a google search to see what that usage means, but I did not find any useful results.

What is the meaning of "boogeyman for everybody" in this context. Can you please provide some examples?

  • @tchrist et. al., I have edited with details. Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 2:26
  • The edits help. Thanks for taking the time to make them.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 2:38

3 Answers 3


When you tried searching on Google, did you put "boogeyman for everyone" in quotes?

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It doesn't produce a lot of results (under 100), but it's rather evident that when that phrase is used, it refers to a person or thing being used as a rallying cry to incite anger or panic.

(The Google search results show the phrase being applied to a variety of hot-button political issues that might be the next boogeyman for everyone to get all up in arms about.)

In the context of the TV show, it sounds like the speaker didn't want that one controller to get all the blame – and perhaps all the media heat – for the accident.

EDIT: Here are a few examples that I found on Google. Due to the nature of the phrase, some of these are talking about contentious issues, which is why I didn't want to include them in my original answer; therefore, these come with the disclaimer that I'm not taking a stance on these issues, I'm merely quoting how other people have used the phrase.

On urban sprawl: He said the committee had to address the land-use density issue quickly because it's the "boogeyman for everyone"... (Lakeland Ledger, June 1989)

On teaching homosexuality in the classroom: He [Senator Campbell] is trying to distract voters from the fact that he has not done anything to address issues like unemployment and the state budget by creating a boogeyman for everyone to rally against. (from a comment on an April 2011 news story published by Vision to America)

On Global Warming: Global Warming/Climate Change is the new boogeyman for everyone to fear. (Posted July 2011 on a message board).

On former vice president Dick Cheney: He's a great boogeyman for everyone who dislikes the administration for whatever reason... in that regard, he takes some heat off the president. (from a 2007 personal opinion posted on a New Orleans Saints fan message board; I have no idea why they were talking politics – except it was April, the off-season for the NFL)

On Moammar Gadhafi: Everyone has been waiting for this day for Moammar Gadhafi to get out. Everyone in Benghazi is waiting for that very minute. They can capture the sons. They can capture confidants of Gadhafi, but until they have Gadhafi captured, dead or alive, people are still, even in Benghazi, somewhere apprehensive, because the man has been, quite frankly, a boogeyman for everyone. (from a CNN News Transcript, August 2011)

On Osama bin Laden: Bin Laden became the devil to Saddam Hussein's boogeyman for America. (Elizabeth Coulter, Co-producers of Illusion: How the Media Laid the Framework for America's Rush to War in Iraq, 2009)

On the exiled Stuart family: The descendants of James III lived on in France and were something of an ongoing boogeyman for England over the years, which regarded them all as a line of pretenders to the throne. And it was no secret that the exiled Stuart family wanted desperately to return to England and take bake the crown. (Hodapp & Von Kannon, The Templar Code for Dummies)

On Microsoft: Predictably, Microsoft remains a useful boogeyman for political purposes even though its share of global revenue for packaged software is only about 10% (Deek & McHugh: Open Source: Technology and Policy, 2007)

As the last few quotes show, sometimes people or corporations aren't the boogeyman for "everyone," but only for certain groups of people.

  • 2
    Also, try searching with "bogeyman for". This spelling variation gives tens of thousands of results.
    – Zairja
    Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 13:01

As far as I'm aware, this isn't an idiom. Simply look at the definition of bogeyman ("a terrifying or dreaded person or thing"). Thus, "a dreadful thing for everybody" or, probably more apt, "something to scare everyone". It fits the bill in this article about a spelling bee:

Likewise in a room full of clever and apparently healthy adults, "hemagglutinin," the "H" in the H1N1 virus, was a bogeyman for everybody [. . .]

In this example, all the spellers are terrified at the prospect of having to spell "hemagglutinin".

  • 3
    And well they should be terrified! Unless they can mentally stem it down to haema‑ combining with ‑agglutinin, they will have no chance of getting it right. The two merged a's are hard enough, but the double-g is the real killer. The hema‑ / haema‑ thing might give them pause, too; both are acceptable. The OED’s first citation is “1904 Amer. Jrnl. Med. Sci. CXXVIII. 669 (title) ― Concerning haemagglutinins of bacterial origin and their relation to hyaline thrombi and liver necroses.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 11, 2012 at 2:24

Boogeyman for everyone , here means , coming across as a bad person. Someone who is misunderstood.

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