Green’s Dictionary of Slang

bug n.1

[SE bugaboo]

1. a person, esp. one who puts on airs; thus bug’s words, boasting language.

[UK]J. Heywood Proverbs II Ch. v: But all be bugs words, that I speake to spare. / Better space at brym than at bottom, saye I.
[UK]C. Sedley Bellamira I i: Did I say such bug-words?
[UK]Smollett Humphrey Clinker (1925) I 138: He damns all the other writers of the age [...] a fifth, who presumed to make strictures upon one of his performances, he holds as a bug in criticism.
[US]Morning Courier and N.Y. Enquirer 5 June 2/2: Three young bugs have been committed to prison, in Halliwell, Me, for breaking into the Methodist and Unitarian churches of that town, and destroying books, cushions, &c.
[UK]Northern Liberator (Tyne & Wear) 16 Nov. 4/5: A set of corrupt, fat-headed [...] muddy brained [...] purse-proud, base, ignorant, un-English fellows [...] this collection of red-faced and pimple-nosed fat-bugs.
[UK] ‘Queen’s Wants at Childbirth’ in C. Hindley Curiosities of Street Lit. (1871) 61: There’ll be all my friends from Germany / Coburgs and all the bugs to tea.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 15 Nov. 3/1: Bad luck to the bugs.
[US]F.H. Sheppard Love Afloat 271: He was too big a bug to spend his time learnin’ niggers.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Oct. 9/1: Moral: This being a Democratic country, always get solid with the titled bugs of the earth, that thy days may be long in the land, &c.
[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 25: bug, n. [...] [A proud, conceited person. Cent. Dict.] [2. A ‘swell’ (slang). Murray].
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 20 Mar. 8/2: One of the curses of Melbourne is the old bugs who hang on to all the boss directorships going.
[US]K. McGaffey Sorrows of a Show Girl Ch. ix: The Dutchman in the delicatessen don’t think you are a bug when you ask for Summer sausage.
[Scot]Dundee Courier 7 July 4/3: The city Wise Bugs have got the poet wrong.
[US]F. Packard White Moll 72: The old man isn’t long on social stunts [...] one of those must-have-nine-hours’-sleep bugs.
[UK]‘Leslie Charteris’ Enter the Saint 58: The Snake’s a small bug [...] You’re big, and I’m going to see that our contribution is in proportion.
[Aus]N. Lindsay Age Of Consent 22: These church bugs belong to the tennis club.
[US]C. Brossard Redemption in G. Feldman (ed.) Protest (1960) 120: You can tell that police bug to shove it.
[SA]A. La Guma ‘Nocturne’ in Malan (1994) 21: High bugs go to the City Hall to hear it.
[US]F. Elli Riot (1967) 147: I’ll stomp his hands to a pulp right here. The bug’s not plantin’ a blade in my back.
[SA]J. Sikakane Window on Soweto 9: The ghetto dwellers generally refer to Dube Township as [...] the suburb of the ‘highbugs’, ‘tycoons’ and ‘socialites’.
[UK](con. 1940s) D. Nobbs Second From Last in the Sack Race 167: Suddenly a cry rent the air. ‘All new-bugs to the shower room.’.
[UK]A. Close Official and Doubtful 166: I can see he’s an ugly bug and I’m his mother.

2. (US) an insignificant person; an irritating person.

[UK]Sportsman 17 Nov. 2/1: Notes on News [...] There was a duel the other day between two irritable scribes of minor repute, owing one having called the other ‘a bug’ in print.
[US]Wash. Herald (DC) 18 Dec. 56/3: [cartoon caption] Better keep running, you bug!
[US]W.D. Overholser Fabulous Gunman 40: The ‘miserable bug of a man,’ determined to show everybody that he was more than Nita thought he was.
[US]Baker et al. CUSS.

3. see boog n.

4. (UK school) a (usu. male) pupil, generally qualified by an adj.

[UK]J. Meades Empty Wigs (t/s) 146: [H]is people hadn’t paid the fees for a year [...] Weasel was going to have to be a grammar bug.
[UK]J. Meades Empty Wigs (t/s) 153: There was a Jewboy in the school. He had crept in unmentioned [...] To me, being so blessed, the newbug’s race was clear.

In phrases

big bug (n.)

1. (orig. US) an important person, an aristocrat, esp. one who considers themselves to be one and acts accordingly.

[US]A.N. Royall Letters from Alabama 25 Dec. 117: One of them [...] being asked by one of the big bugs to rub down his horse, cursed him.
[US]Harvard Register Oct. 247: He who desires to be a big-Bug, rattling in a natty gig, / No-top, or chaise, or tandem.
[US]Knickerbocker (N.Y.) ix Mar. 259: The letter was addressed to a merchant, — one of the ‘big bugs,’ as they are called in the West.
[US]T. Haliburton Sam Slick in England 24: Then we’ll go to the Lord’s house — I don’t mean to the meetin’ house, but where the nobles meet, Pick out the big bugs and see what sort of stuff they’re made of.
[US]F.M. Whitcher Widow Bedott Papers (1883) 111: She’s one o’ the big bugs here.
[US]Knickerbocker (N.Y.) lviii (Oct.) 314: Yas, yas, massa, I show you where all of de big bugs stop.
[US]J. Miller First Fam’lies in the Sierras 110: The great Washington, Caesar, Horace Greeley, all sich big-bugs.
[US](con. c.1840) ‘Mark Twain’ Huckleberry Finn 40: Starchy clothes — very. You think you’re a good deal of a big-bug, don’t you?
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 79: Jim and me could see how Starlight had been working the thing to rights while he was swelling it in the town among the big bugs.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 16 Aug. 20/2: Get away with you! You big bugs want ter swaller everything yerself, and don’t give no little man a chance.
[UK]J.D. Brayshaw Slum Silhouettes 9: If Murty could only get a show on the floor of the big House, he’d make some of the ‘big bugs’ sit up.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 27 Apr. 3/6: But do be consistent. Mister Christmas card — I mean railway guard — and drop down on a big-bug or two for a change.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 242: The bigbugs who own the copper mines live in ’Frisco.
[Aus]Truth (Melbourne) 3 Jan. 5/1: It has been a case of V.R.C. big-bugs doing things that public cannot.
[UK]Wodehouse Psmith Journalist (1993) 221: The man behind is a big bug.
[Ire]L. Doyle Dear Ducks 118: Here was their chance at last, a big-bug of a lady comin’ to the town.
[US](con. 1900s) S. Lewis Elmer Gantry 54: I thought I’d just like to hear a real big bug preach.
[US]L. Hughes Mulatto in Three Negro Plays (1969) II ii: Norwood didn’t have a gang o’ yellow girls, though, like Higgins and some o’ these other big bugs.
[UK]J. Cary Horse’s Mouth (1948) 59: These big bugs are always on the telephone to someone or other, especially millionaires.
[Aus]K. Tennant Joyful Condemned 40: He’s one of those big bugs that doesn’t do anything, if you ask me.
[US]Wentworth & Flexner DAS.
[Aus](con. 1941) R. Beilby Gunner 122: Christ! They’re only shit-kickers like us. It’s the big bugs I’m talkin’ about.
[UK]Intelligent Life Spring 125/1: The big bugs in the press kept promoting me as the mouthpiece [...] of a generation.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

[US]R. Carlton New Purchase II 231: The musicians did not retire off [...] but remained and calling for ‘big-bug wine—fit for a gentleman!’.
[US]‘Ned Buntline’ Mysteries & Miseries of NY 12: ‘I haven’t lifted nuthin’ as yet; but I mauled some o’ the bigbug swells a bit ago’.
[US]C.F. Lummis letter 19 Dec. in Byrkit Letters from the Southwest (1989) 166: The rascals of that Santa Fe Ring and their big-bug backers.
[UK]J. Caminada Twenty-Five Years of Detective Life I 333: As he walks along the court / With a ‘big bug’ sort of air.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 7 Feb. 8/2: Sir Josh Symon, Adelaide’s big bug lawyer, has contributed two kids.