Support Provided ByLearn More

Ugga Da Bugga

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

Click here for Jean’s profile.

My favorite part of the Jean Berko Gleason videos was when she recalled letting loose on her parents with some good old-fashioned gibberish. “It must mean something in some language,” was her response when they told her it meant nothing.

Support Provided ByLearn More

I hear ya, Jean.

“Ugga da bugga” may not be in the dictionary yet, but don’t count it out. Unlike some of our more rigid counterparts (cough, French Academy), we English-speakers update our language as much as we do our social networking sites. There are currently 1,007,711 words in the English language, and a new word is created every 98 minutes. That adds up to 14.7 words per day (according to the Global Language Monitor, which–full disclosure–is a bit more lenient than Mr. Webster). Some are the results of new technology. Others are cultural hybrids that fuse two languages. Each year, new words like “locavore,” “interweb,” and “frenemy” make the transition from crazy talk to real, live word. But each one got started somewhere.

Ugga Da Bugga-jeanhorse.jpg
Perhaps Ugga Da Bugga is something in horse-speak?

In celebration of innovative, meaningful nonsense, I’ve collected a series of words once considered “made up” that have somehow made their way into our language (officially or otherwise). Some you’ll know. For others, you’ll have to use my sample sentences for hints. See if you can match these crazy words with their original meaning. Then check the comments for the correct answers.


1—Skedaddle A gangly group of street hockey players skedaddled when they saw Jean turn onto their cul-de-sac.

2—Sabotage Jean promises to sabotage the futures of all young people who do not greet or thank her.
3—Octothorpe Press five for Jean, or the octothorpe to repeat this message.

4—Ochlocracy Jean fears that our society will fall into an ochlocracy without learning how human beings think. Go psycholinguistics!

5—Mimisiku “Mimisiku, slow down and stop giving my friends nasty looks on the way to school.” – Jean’s children


a. This symbol: #

b. A word for mother, originally used in Tim Allen’s “Jungle 2 Jungle”

c. A loud shoe; the inability to walk courteously

d. A hasty retreat, first used in a Civil War era “New York Tribune” article

e. Mob rule