Boo-Boo: Serving the young and injured since 1954. By Mark Peters for Babble's parenting dictionary, Jabberwocky.Mark Peters
But I bet they’d spot a few boo-boos.
Though less elegant than “sarcophagus,” “astrophysics” and “svelte,” “boo-boo” is a word that serves heroic duty for kids and parents, and it never leaves our vocabulary entirely. All the way into geezerhood, boo-boos happen. It’s hard to believe the word is only as old as the 1950s.
Then again, “boo-boo” may be much older: it’s one of those terms that’s common as weather yet woefully under-documented. Though I have accepted the Oxford English Dictionary as my personal savior, it does have its limits, and the entry on “boo-boo” is a bit thin, only listing the blunder meaning. The first known use is from 1954: “Defense Secretary Wilson, whose recent boo-boo . . . threatens to become historic.” Unless Wilson’s monumental goof involved a perilious plop on the pavement, the ouch-ish meaning was not intended.
More helpfully, the OED indicates that “booboo” may be related to the non-breasticular sense of “boob,” which (in addition to other nincompoop-related meanings) has meant “goof” since 1934, as in this 1966 example: “Newspapers have I read in every town And many a boob and misprint have I seen.” Since booby prizes are given to boobs who make boo-boos, it seems plausible that these words crawled out of the same linguistic ooze.
Jonathan Lighter’s Historical Dictionary of American Slang paints a fuller picture that includes the familiar sense of “boo-boo” as “a minor bruise, injury, or blemish” used mainly with children, which also dates from 1954. Boo-boo connoisseurs will also be interested to know that the term has had three additional, older meanings that referred to dollars, testicles and jokes. To demonstrate, the following sentence was crafted in the Jabberwocky research lab for educational purposes and should be used with care: “For thirty booboos, you can kick me in the booboos: Just boo-boo-ing!” But these amusing uses apparently died an early death, and boo-boos have mainly been whoopsies and owies since.
Of course, boo-boo talk goes well beyond the realm of little kids. In the NBA finals, when eventual MVP Paul Pierce was wheelchaired off the court with a knee injury – only to dramatically return to a revved-up crowd minutes later – Laker fans and Celtic agnostics thought he was faking, and more than one message boarder mocked him, like so: “I’ve always hated players over-reacting when they get a boo boo on the court.”
On the CTV’s webpage, a writer uses the term to abuse abusers of the Canadian medical system: “Maybe we could have boo boo clinics run by interns who could process zillions of these incidental issues and save the hospitals for the real cases which require medical help.”
And a lusty Daniel Craig fan puts the word to more hootchie-kootchie-y use: “Daniel Craig had a boo-boo on the set of the new Bond flick. I hereby volunteer to kiss it better.”
Part of boo-boo’s charm must be its form: “reduplication” is the linguistics term for words you already use and enjoy if you’ve ever jibber-jabbered about a hub-bub or pooh-poohed a mishmash. As a member of this crude, childish and fun-to-say family of words, boo-boo appeals to the word-liker in us all, who enjoys shouting “wowie zowie” or “nyah-nyah,” just because we can.
As the Bible says, “Even the hoity-toity goeth higgledy-piggledy over some brouhahas. That’s no sin – and it’s not a boo-boo either.”