I was scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning to catch up with the news, and I was stopped in my tracks by this tweet.
That’s it, I’m calling it - Superlinguo word of the day goes to EMBUGGERANCE.
My first reaction was that this word must’ve been a joke. I thought it was a bit of wordplay using the slang word “bugger” and applying affixes (a la “embiggen” in The Simpsons).
It seemed strange in a serious interview on ABC radio about compensation for firefighters, but it’s true - turns out “embuggerance” was a slang word used in the military and it means “any obstacle that gets in the way of progress”. Apparently it’s even in the Macquarie Dictionary here in Australia.
World Wide Words has a post on embuggerance with some thoughts on its etymology and some advice to avoid it when sensitive audiences are present, because “bugger” in Australia used to be an term referring to sodomy and was considered offensive. But now for most speakers it’s softened to be a fairly mild slang word. It’s benign enough in Australia and NZ these days that this fantastic Toyota ad was aired in prime time, using only the words “bugger” and “bugger me”.
“Bugger” in Australia (and in most other English speaking countries) gets used as a basis for such other excellent phrases as: “Buggerising around” (mucking around), “I’ll be buggered” (I’ll be damned), or “I’ve got bugger all time for that” (I’ve got no time for that).
I’m not sure if it’s a backformation from “embuggerance”, but Urban Dictionary tells us that “buggerance” is used in the north or England, also to describe an annoyance.
These days, I reckon “bugger” has bugger all vulgarity left and I’ll be buggered if we don’t see it become even more integrated with mainstream slang, to be honest.
PS. Over at Language Log, they’ve suggested a new use for “embuggerance” in our current age - recommended reading
On bugger and its vulgarity, or lack of: in the UK it is, like in Australia, very mild and can be used in most social situations, and possibly even on pre-watershed telly, though I’m not sure (and would be frowned upon on kids’ TV, though I think I’ve heard it on the Simpsons, broadcast at 6pm). It’s not quite as inoffensive as it seems to be in Australia though, perhaps because it’s not used quite as much. A (US) friend once called his son a ‘little bugger’ (in the UK) (because to him it’s not at all sweary) and drew shocked looks from those in earshot. But here’s the thing: it definitely does still also have its meaning of sodomy. Most if not all people know that meaning, though it’s sort of old-fashioned (and a bit public-school (=private-school for US readers)) so maybe kids don’t know that, but then the word as a swear-word is also a bit old-fashioned anyway. So it kind of has a weird thing where it is almost completely non-offensive (I used the word ‘buggered’ in a text to my dad just this morning) but also means a sex act.