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‘Bull-Begger’: An Early Modern Scare-Word

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Chapter Summary

While agreeing that bull-beggers were thought scary, our historical informants differ greatly about their most basic features, such as their gender, and whether they operated singly or in groups. The same uncertainty prevails on the issue what exactly bull-beggers were supposed to be like. This chapter demonstrates that the reliable details about this genus of phantom are hard to find. It examines various contextual factors that may have prevented the concept of the bull-begger from preserving or developing definite features in literary texts. It also examines some instances in which authors played upon the word bull-begger by taking their clues from the two elements, bull, and begger, of which it was apparently compounded. What is evident is that the bull-begger has managed to defeat the attempts of etymologists throughout three centuries to reduce it to its original features. The chapter concludes that bull-beggers were traditionally imagined as wearing horns.

Keywords:bull-begger; etymologists; phantom; scary



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