In Charles Dickens’s 1843 story A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge exclaims “Bah! Humbug!” in reference to lớn Christmas. As he famously hates the holiday, it’s easy to lớn assume that “Humbug!” is just an expression used khổng lồ convey dislike for something popular. In fact, thanks khổng lồ the cultural impact of the Victorian Christmas classic, that’s often how humbug is used today. You might describe someone as having a bah-humbug attitude toward the Marvel Cinematic Universe if they habitually whine about how its superanh hùng movies “aren"t real cinema," for example.

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But Scrooge didn’t originate the term humbug—và he meant something more specific than “I hate Christmas!” when he uttered it.

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Humbug first appeared in writing in a 1750 issue of The Student, or the Oxford và Cambridge Monthly Miscellany, where it was described as “a word very much in vogue with the people of taste & fashion … though it has not even the penumbra of a meaning.” In short, it seemed khổng lồ have sầu been trendy slang coined by the cool kids of the era, & its etymology remains unclear. That said, humbug was used widely enough that its definition, at least, is clear. According khổng lồ the Oxford English Dictionary, it referred to “a hoax; a jesting or befooling triông chồng,” as well as any “thing which is not really what it pretends to lớn be,” like a ssi mê or fraud. Eventually, people started using it khổng lồ mean nonsense in general.


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Scrooge is visited by Marley"s ghost in this 1843 illustration by John Leech.Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

When Scrooge repeatedly calls Christmas “humbug,” it’s because he believes the holiday fits the bill in more ways than one. He thinks Christmas tricks people inlớn feeling cheerful và thankful when they have sầu nothing to lớn feel cheerful about or thankful for. “What reason have sầu you to be merry? You’re poor enough,” he tells his nephew. Scrooge is also of the mind that society uses Christmas as an excuse khổng lồ wrangle money out of wealthy people like him: He refuses lớn donate khổng lồ a Christmas collection for the poor, asserting that they should seek help from existing institutions that house và employ the underprivileged. Shortly after, Scrooge complains about having khổng lồ pay his clerk, Bob Cratchit, for an entire day off. “A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” he says.

Basically, Dickens’s curmudgeonly antihero considers Christmas a financial và emotional scam on a global scale—a humbug any way you slice it. The only way Scrooge doesn’t use the word humbug is in reference khổng lồ the striped, peppermint-flavored hard candies of the same name. (Those humbugs date at least as far bachồng as the 1820s in the UK, so it’s possible Scrooge would’ve sầu been familiar with them, too.)

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