Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bughouse n.

also bug joint, bug trap
[SE bug/bug n.4 + house]

1. (US) a vermin-infested lodging house (latterly hotel).

[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 68: Vhy, thunder me groggy! if any trav’ler gets rest there – why it is a reglar bug trap.
[US]J.A. Hazen Five Years before the Mast 29: ‘We can safely say, [...] we have slept in a big-bug bed!’ ‘Yes! replied he laughing, ‘and lodged in a big-bug house, too.’.
Coconino Sun (Flagtaff, AZ) 11 Dec. 3/1: We don’t say bughouse in Boston; it isn’t elegant. We say beetle-garage.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Cancer (1963) 127: ‘This is a bughouse,’ says Van Norden.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[UK]G. Fletcher Down Among the Meths Men 60: You could see as well as hear the fattened lice as they moved up the wallpaper in these bug-joints.
[UK](con. 1950s–60s) in G. Tremlett Little Legs 65: I don’t want to stay in this poxy bughouse.

2. a hospital, esp. a lunatic asylum; thus bughouse fable, an exaggerated story; bug ward, bughouse ward, a psychiatric ward; thus bughouser, an asylum inmate, a mad person.

[US]F. Hutcheson Barkeep Stories 17: ‘[D]en I t’ink he’s a mark dat’s broke out o’ some bughouse. He was de wildes’ lookin’ guy ever I see’.
[US]A.H. Lewis ‘Skinny Mike’s Unwisdom’ in Sandburrs 243: I ought to give myself up to d’ p’lice [...] an’ ast ’em to put me in Bloomin’dale or some other bug house.
[Can]R. Service ‘The Parson’s Son’ in Songs of a Sourdough 13: It put me queer, and for near a year I never drew sober breath, / Till I found myself in the bughouse ward with a claim staked out on death.
[US]Van Loan ‘Playing Even with Obadiah’ in Old Man Curry 59: If Old Man Curry is a fool, there’s an awful lot of wise people locked up in the bug houses.
[US]L.N. Smith Lingo of No Man’s Lnd 18: BUG HOUSE Shell-shock hospital; also used to refer to a dug-out or to flea-pots.
[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 186: If a prisoner would complain to the visiting magistrates about abuses in the prison, she was doomed to a ride to the bug-house.
[US]Blanche Calloway ‘Concentratin’ on You’ [lyrics] Now since your spell is over me, / Boy, I’m bughouse bound!
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Young Manhood in Studs Lonigan (1936) 285: ‘Bug House Fable Number 999,’ said Young Rocky.
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Cancer (1963) 296: The chateau, they called it. A polite way of saying ‘the bughouse’.
[US]C. Willingham End as a Man (1952) 138: Who cares whether you’re free or locked in a bug-house? You’re crazy.
[US]J. Thompson Alcoholics (1993) 7: Any other guy [...] would be in the bughouse or Alcatraz.
[US]J. Steinbeck Sweet Thursday (1955) 67: If there’s a bughouser within miles he’s drawn to me.
[US]J. Stearn Sisters of the Night 69: She wound up in the bughouse after taking some pills.
[US]H.S. Thompson letter 9 Sept. in Proud Highway (1997) 396: It also rekindled my interest in a subject I’ve been avoiding – namely, that of plunging once again into the Latin bughouse.
[US]E. Torres Carlito’s Way 140: I could get sent to the federal bughouse.
[Can]R. Caron Go-Boy! 885: You’re not getting me on some bug ward so you can stick some wires in my head.
[US]N. Heard House of Slammers 77: Ol’ Bru goes a little off once in a while [...] He’s done been down to th’ bughouse [...] maybe four times.
[UK]Guardian Rev. 15 Jan. 1: A real-life teenager fresh from the bughouse.

3. attrib. use of sense 2.

[US]F.P. Dunne in Schaaf Mr Dooley’s Chicago (1977) 243: ‘So are we,’ says th’ bughouse people.
[US]B. Fisher A. Mutt in Blackbeard Compilation (1977) 51: Mutt won a couple of million more in bughouse money yesterday. The odds he gets in the daffy joint are something fierce.

4. (US) the brain.

[US]W. Irwin Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum Introd. n.p.: The better known modern synonym for brain, ‘bug-house’.

5. (US) nonsense, rubbish.

[US]J.W. Carr ‘Words from Northwest Arkansas’ in DN III:i 72: bug-house, n. Nonsense, bosh. ‘O bug-house, I don’t believe you.’.
[US]A. Berkman Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (1926) 50: Then it’s plain ‘bughouse,’ no use talking.

6. an eccentric; a psychotic.

[US]S. Ford Side-stepping with Shorty 26: If a Lady Bughouse has strayed in here, we got to shoo her out as quiet as possible.
[US]S. Ford Torchy 267: A flyer! Say, every bughouse in the country is at work on one of them.
[US]G. Pelecanos Way Home (2009) 51: Lawrence Newhouse, who some called Bughouse [...] not considered dangerous unless he was off his meds.

7. (US) a prison.

[J.W. Kaye Lives of indian Officers II 167: A poor wretch, confined without food for three days and nights in the Bughouse, an infernal hole used for severe imprisonment].
[US]Day Book (Chicago) 10 Nov. 26/2: I don’t want ’em to send me back to that hell-hole at Joliet or to any bughouse.
[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 414: Prison. [...] bughouse.
[US]‘Boxcar Bertha’ Sister of the Road (1975) 7: Police and pinches, jails, bughouses, and joints seem to have been always a part of my life.
[US]Pittsburgh Courier (PA) 11 July 21/1: Bolling [...] who stabbed Marchand [...] of the Apollo theatre a few weeks ago, will face a grand jury. He may be sent to the bug-house as an over-due guest.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

8. (orig. S.Afr.) a run-down, dirty, third-rate cinema.

[UK]A. Burgess Inside Mr Enderby in Complete Enderby (2002) 161: Here was the authentic fleapit [...] eptiome of every bughouse that Enderby had, as a child, queued outside.
[NZ]P. Wilson N.Z. Jack 164: ‘How about coming to the pictures with me tonight.’ [...] ‘All right if I see you outside the bughouse at a quarter to eight?’.
[Aus]P. Barton Bastards I Have Known 48: The Bughouse was where all the courting was done and the romantic melodramas that came on the big screen were being acted out.
[UK]N. Cohn Yes We have No 116: There was a picture house right on Granby Street. We called it the Bughouse, and that was what it was, flea-ridden.
[Aus]S. Maloney Big Ask 108: He snuck into some bughouse screening a midnight-to-dawn Star Trek marathon.
(con. 1930s) M. McGrath Pie & Mash 71: For ted it’s tickets to the Saturday morning tupenny rush at the Ritz (also known as the bughouse).

9. any place that drives one crazy.

[US]E. O’Neill Iceman Cometh Act I: Be God, this bughouse will drive me stark, raving loony yet!