We all know a Scrooge. That relative who proudly hands you 10 pence at Christmas, or the grumpy friend who hates Christmas carols. But what does the word scrooge actually mean and why did Dickens give his most famous villain this name?
There is something innately miserly about the word. It comes from the old-fashioned term ‘scrouge’, which means to ‘press’, perfect for ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!’
So, what about Scrooge’s catchphrase ‘bah humbug’? Is he talking about hard-boiled sweets? Turns out humbug means “deceptive or false talk or behaviour” according to the Oxford English dictionary. When Scrooge derails Christmas traditions as bah humbug, he’s calling the holiday a hoax. His exact meaning is more unclear, does he mean that Christmas is just a trick to make people spend money, or is he humbugging at the thought of everyone being cheerful when poverty and misery surround him? Either way, the term was fashionable in the Victorian era. Maybe we should bring it back? Homework during the holidays? Bah humbug to that!
Scrooge is the grumpy grandad at the Christmas table, wincing at Christmas carols and bah humbugging his way out of wearing the paper-crown cracker hats, but why on earth does Scrooge not like Christmas? It is the most wonderful time of the year after all.
The mystery of Scrooge’s scrooginess is solved when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back to his childhood. He is seen alone at Christmas, left at boarding school when all the other children have gone home to their families. Not only does Christmas force him to close his business and lose money, the festive season reminds Scrooge of unhappy memories and forces him to acknowledge that he is alone, and always has been. Fortunately, after the ghosts have visited, Scrooge amends his miserly ways and attends his nephew Fred’s Christmas party, alone no more.