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What is the Boogeyman?

Niki Acker
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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The boogeyman, also spelled bogeyman, is an imaginary monster often believed in by children. Adults have traditionally used the boogeyman to threaten children into going to sleep on time, although this practice seems counter-intuitive. The boogeyman may also be used as a threat to induce children to finish their meal or to behave in general. Versions of the boogeyman exist almost universally, and some psychologists believe that the monster may stem from an evolutionary need in prehistoric times to discourage children from wandering away from the safety of the group.

The boogeyman has a nearly endless number of incarnations, as anything frightening or repulsive will suffice. The monster is usually said to live under a child's bed or in the closet and to appear at night, although in some regions of the United States, he scratches on the window of a child's room. Usually, the boogeyman is more or less humanoid, although he may be much larger or smaller than regular people. He is often dressed in black and may carry a sack or basket with which to kidnap children. Some cultures believe in a female, witch-like equivalent of the boogeyman.

The word boogeyman is first attested as bogeyman in the 16th century. It is probably related to the earlier bogle, first appearing in print in 1505 with the sense of "ghost." By extension, boogeyman is now used to describe any imaginary or irrational fear, while retaining its original meaning of a monster that terrorizes children.

There are a few well-known boogeyman figures in the English-speaking world, including the Irish creature Rawhead and Bloodybones and the character Freddy Kreuger in the Nightmare on Elm Street films. The boogeyman has also been variously portrayed in children's entertainment, from Oogie Boogie in the film The Nightmare Before Christmas to the Boogie Man in the Powerpuff Girls cartoon show. The Disney film Monsters, Inc. postulates a world of closet monsters who make their living by scaring children at night and collecting their screams.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By calabama71 — On May 28, 2011

@dega2010- You are correct. El Cuco originated in Galicia and Portugal. Some people refer to it as “El Coco”. In the Portuguese language, “coco” refers to a pumpkin head ghost.

The legend is that, many years ago, people would make a lantern out of a carved vegetable, usually a pumpkin. They would carve out a mouth and two eyes and put a light inside of it to scare people away. It is very similar to what we know as a Jack o’ lantern.

This legend has been widely used in Latin America to “encourage” children to go to sleep. Children are led to believe that if they don’t go to sleep, the Cuco will come and take them away.

By dega2010 — On May 24, 2011

I have also heard of El Cuco. I believe that it might be the Spanish version of the Boogeyman. Has anyone else ever heard of that?

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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