Monday, February 27, 2012

A mind-buggering mystery

Last Friday on "On Point," the WBUR talk show, panelists were discussion the violent response to the burning of Korans in Afghanistan when that day's host, Mike Pesca, chimed in: "This buggers my mind," he said.

Did he mean to say "boggles my mind"? Maybe, maybe not. It buggers the/my mind gets 50-some  Google hits, and mind-buggering (combining hyphened and hyphenless spellings) nets roughly 300. Mind-buggering could be an eggcorn* -- an inadvertent reanalysis of the idiom -- but it's impossible to tell; mind-buggering, at least for English speakers who use bugger to mean "mess with, screw up," would be a perfectly logical expression. But Americans don't use that bugger much; I wonder how it sounded to the public radio audience.

My research into the term, however, turned up an even more interesting question. Did Douglas Adams use the term mind-buggering in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"? Several citations from bloggers credit him with the coinage, and a couple of PDFs of (what seems to be) the text show the relevant paragraphs -- the arrival of the Vogons, Ch. 3 --  reading thus (my bold):
"What the hell's that?" [Arthur] shrieked.
Whatever it was raced across the sky in monstrous yellowness, tore the sky apart with mind-buggering noise and leapt off into the distance leaving the gaping air to shut behind it with a bang that drove your ears six feet into your skull.
But the editions available (and searchable) on Amazon have it as "tore the sky apart with mind-boggling noise and leapt off into the distance." So if you've got an early edition of the book at hand -- or any other clues to the authenticity of that "mind-buggering" version -- please share.

* Mind-buggering is not in the Eggcorn Database, but the Forum section of the site offers examples of many other mind-boggling variants, including mind-bugling, mind-buckling,  mind-blogging, mind-bungling, and mind-bottling. 


me said...

I got my copy of the original trilogy in 1983. If that's early enough for your query, I can confirm that it is "mind-buggering" in that addition of HHGTTG. Since "bugger" in that sense is a Br/Commonwealth usage more than N.Amr, it was unremarkable here in NZ.

John McIntyre said...

"It buggers the mind" was an undergraduate eggcorn that turned up when I was a teaching assistant at Syracuse in the 1970s.

The Ridger, FCD said...

The version for sale at has "mind-buggering" - I just checked. So this may be a case of "Americanizing" the text.

Kay L. Davies said...

English English and American English can be very different. Unlike maxqnz, I would have boggled at "mind-buggering" even though I'm Canadian and quite used (so I thought) to Englishisms.
Re the eggcorns: "Mind-buckling" makes a lot of sense, as in "mind-bending" but I think my favorite variant just has to be the very confusing "mind-bottling" although it could be a good euphemism for drinking.

Mark Allen said...

The panelist also might have been going for "beggars belief." I take it to be more common in British English, but my American Heritage offers the example "beauty that beggars description."

Here is The Phrase Finder's take on the idiom:

Mark Allen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan White said...

Hmmm, I've never heard of "mind-buggering" but I've heard people use other terms to complain about ideas which have had traumatically intimate relations with their brains.

Unknown said...

My copy of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide (1996) has "mind-boggling."

My favorite, though, is "mind-bottling," complete with explanation of the idiom.

Jan said...

Ridger, thanks for the additional datum -- I should have thought of that. Wonder if the edit was made to use a more familiar idiom or to clean up the language? -- or maybe both. And are there other BrE-to-AmE changes?
And Jonathon, thanks for the clip -- hilarious.

me said...

"Wonder if the edit was made to use a more familiar idiom or to clean up the language?"

In one of the books, he talks about a "Silver Rory, for the most gratuitous use of the word fuck in a serious screenplay". It may have been this that was bowdlerised for US publication. Something was, leading him to insert a whole segment about "Belgium" as a universally taboo vulgarity in a later part of the series.

Jonathan Langsner said...

My Pan paperback edition, which was published in Canada, apparently in 1979, uses the "mind-buggering" variant.
Jonathan Langsner

Maryct70 said...

Thank you for introducing me to my new favorite vocabulary word: "eggcorn".
I often silently cringe when I hear someone inadvertently revise an idiom during conversation. I never knew there was a word for this, though I probably should have.
I just found "The Eggcorn Database" online, and the number of entries boggled (bungled?)my mind! This could entertain me for hours!

John Burgess said...

Is there any relationship here with 'mind-f*cking' or 'brain-f*cking'?

Might a copy editor have read 'bugger' broadly, to mean 'f*ck' and sought a tamer alternative?

Jolly Roger said...

Yup! can confirm the original books used the term mindbuggering. As it was used only once I bet it was an evil typesetter who did it for a laugh. I bought a class set of books from "Windmill school books" and was planning to read the book with the class, until I got to page 22 or there abouts. I'd designed work sheets and all sorts of stuff but when I came across that word I dropped the whole project. I did try to contact D.A. on the N.G. dedicated to him but I got flamed for not reading the FAQ. I eventually tracked him down on his web site where he stated that he didn't use the D.A. N.G. as he got flamed for pretending to be D.A.!! Anyway I posted a letter on the site but never got a reply...late the next year I heard he died, so I'll never know if it was intentional.