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The term “bugger” is used in different ways in various regions of the world. In some areas, it's used to describe someone who is distasteful or displeasing, and the word is usually used as a negative way. Other regions have slang in which the world is used affectionately and in a friendly way, as a generic term for a man or boy. It's also used as a verb, to add further confusion to the matter.
This word is derived from the Latin word for “Bulgarian,” in reference to a Catholic sect in Bulgaria that began to attract attention in the 1100s. The term was initially used to refer to a heretic, referencing beliefs held by many Christians that this sect was heretical in nature. By the 1500s, the term had come to be used in a slightly different way: to reference someone who engaged in sodomy, or the act of sodomy itself.
Pejorative associations with sodomy explain the use of this word to describe an unlikeable person, and to related uses in which the term stands in for “ruined” or “broken.” In British in particular, a situation may be said to be “buggered,” and it is meant to imply ruin. Speakers of British English also use the word as a verb, in the phrase “bugger off,” an impolite way of saying “go away.” These uses of the word are closely linked with a four letter epithet commonly utilized in English to crudely describe sexual activities.
The rise of an affectionate use of the term is a bit difficult to explain. Young boys and foolish people in particular may be referred to as “little buggers” in a way which is meant to be friendly, rather than offensive. Parents may occasionally resort to using this term when they long to employ a stronger epithet to describe an errant child, but in these cases, a certain lingering affection is still involved.
Because this word is used in so many different ways, travelers should be careful about when they use it. Even if one's own cultural norms allow for the use of the term as a friendly slang word, it may be perceived as deeply offensive by people from another culture or nation. People who aren't sure about prevailing trends in slang may want to ask a native to ensure that they do not accidentally cause offense or upset, or simply avoid it altogether.