Of Boogers and Boogermen


However, mountain folk in the Smokies, who were famously playful with language and humour, likely had more versions of booger than any other culture. A place that was thick with undergrowth could be “boogery.” An easily frightened horse or other animal was labelled “boogerish,” and being “boogerous” was to have a ghostly appearance. To “booger up” was to damage or spoil something and a “booger hollow” was a notorious, dark, scary, remote place in the woods where one might meet a ghost or moonshiner.

Places with boorish names in the Great Smokies include the Boogerman Trail and Boogertown (an area in Sevier County near Dollywood). The latter was so-named because a late-night traveller once thought he saw the eyes of a demon staring at him from a thicket, but upon his return, he discovered it was only a cow.

The origins of the moniker Boogerman Trail are well documented. In his book, Place Names of the Smokies, author Allen Coggins states the trail is named “for Robert Palmer, a local resident, whose nickname was Boogerman. As a child, Robert was very bashful, and when asked in school one day what he wanted to be when he grew up, he put his head down on his desk and laughed, “the Boogerman.” The name stuck.

As he grew older, he sported a bushy beard that gave him a rather frightening appearance. It is said that he liked to take advantage of this look to scare children. He was very reclusive in his later years and refused to sell his land or timber rights to the lumber companies. Hence, the virgin forest, through which his namesake trail passes, was preserved as a legacy to the man. His father was Turkey George Palmer, another well known Smoky Mountain character.”

So, as you enjoy the Boogerman Trail, don’t be boogerish about the name; it’s no booger hollow and you are unlikely to meet boogerous people or things. If you stay on the well-marked trail, you’ll avoid boogery undergrowth. And most importantly, don’t booger up the place; leave it better than when you came.

In their landmark book, Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English, authors Michael Montgomery and Joseph Hall define booger as “a demon or ghost; a person having a ghostlike, disheveled, or mischievous appearance. The term is often used to threaten children to make them behave.” Likewise, a “boogerman” is a “Ghost or hobgoblin; the devil.”

Many residents of the Great Smoky Mountains have been quoted with using the term, including Horace Kephart, Hodge Mathes, Sam Styles, Glenn Cardwell, and Sara Cole. Yet the word did not originate here. Nearly every culture has some sort of bogeyman used by parents and guardians to persuade children to follow the straight and narrow. One of the most closely related terms, bugge, comes from Middle English and describes a ghost or hobgoblin.