also lady-bug, 1690s, from lady + bug (n.). The "lady" is the Virgin Mary (compare German cognate Marienkäfer). In Britain, usually ladybird or lady-bird (1670s), supposedly through aversion to the word bug due to overtones of sodomy, however this seems to be the older form of the word. Also known 17c.-18c. as lady-cow or lady-fly.
Entries linking to ladybug
c. 1200, lafdi, lavede, from Old English hlæfdige (Northumbrian hlafdia, Mercian hlafdie), "mistress of a household, wife of a lord," apparently literally "one who kneads bread," from hlaf "bread" (see loaf (n.)) + -dige "maid," which is related to dæge "maker of dough" (which is the first element in dairy; see dey (n.1)). Also compare lord (n.)). Century Dictionary finds this etymology "improbable," and OED rates it "not very plausible with regard to sense," but no one seems to have a better explanation.
The medial -f- disappeared 14c. The word is not found outside English except where borrowed from it. Sense of "woman of superior position in society" is c. 1200; that of "woman whose manners and sensibilities befit her for high rank in society" is from 1861 (ladylike suggesting this sense is attested from 1580s, and ladily from c. 1400). Meaning "woman chosen as an object of chivalrous love" is from early 14c. Used commonly as an address to any woman since 1890s.
Applied since Old English to the Holy Virgin, hence many extended usages in plant names, place names, etc., from genitive singular hlæfdigan, which in Middle English merged with the nominative, so that lady- often represents (Our) Lady's, as in ladybug. Lady Day (late 13c.) was the festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (March 25). Ladies' man first recorded 1784; lady-killer "man supposed to be dangerously fascinating to women" is from 1811. Lady of pleasure recorded from 1640s. Lady's slipper as a type of orchid is from 1590s.
"insect, beetle," 1620s (earliest reference is to bedbugs), of unknown origin, probably (but not certainly) from or influenced by Middle English bugge "something frightening, scarecrow" (late 14c.), a word or meaning that has become obsolete since the "insect" sense arose, except in bugbear (1570s) and bugaboo (q.v.).
The Middle English word probably is connected with Scottish bogill "goblin, bugbear," or obsolete Welsh bwg "ghost, goblin" (compare Welsh bwgwl "threat," earlier "fear," Middle Irish bocanách "supernatural being"). Some speculate that these words are from a root meaning "goat" (see buck (n.1)) and represent originally a goat-like specter. Compare also bogey (n.1) and Puck. Middle English Compendium compares Low German bögge, böggel-mann "goblin." The sense shift perhaps was by influence of Old English -budda, used in compounds for "beetle" (compare Low German budde "louse, grub," Middle Low German buddech "thick, swollen").
The name of bug is given in a secondary sense to insects considered as an object of disgust and horror, and in modern English is appropriated to the noisome inhabitants of our beds, but in America is used as the general appellation of the beetle tribe .... A similar application of the word signifying an object dread to creeping things is very common. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859]
The meaning "defect in a machine" (1889) may have been coined c. 1878 by Thomas Edison (perhaps with the notion of an insect getting into the works). In compounds, the meaning "person obsessed by an idea" (as in firebug "arsonist") is from 1841, perhaps from notion of persistence. The colloquial sense of "microbe, germ" is from 1919.
Bugs "crazy" is from c. 1900. Bug juice as a slang name for drink is from 1869, originally "bad whiskey." The 1811 slang dictionary has bug-hunter "an upholsterer." Bug-word "word or words meant to irritate and vex" is from 1560s.
updated on April 26, 2016