“Bedbugs” vs. “Bed Bugs,” and brother vs. brother

by nobugsonme on March 3, 2013 · 13 comments

in bed bug epidemic, bed bugs, bed bugs in the media, spread of bed bugs

Alex Wild’s Myrmecos blog has a new post engaging with the age-old question: Is “Bedbugs” one word or two? and finds that internet searchers and printed matter — books, at least — don’t agree:

According to Google’s ngram viewer, a measure of word frequency in scanned books, ‘bedbugs’ as a single word is used far more frequently….

Yet Google trends, which measures search terms, reports the converse…

As I noted in the comments, choosing a side was one of the first things we had to do when the site was set up in 2006.  Here’s a post from 2009 revisiting the question.

The venerable New York Times may be obsessed with bedbugs, but scientists tell us that according to the naming systems used in entomology, true bugs (Hemiptera) have “bugs” as a second word, to distinguish them from insects which are not Hemiptera, a point Myrmecos also notes; Lou Sorkin gives lots of examples of this naming principle in the comments on our 2009 post.

Now, on another note, have a look at the trend for “bedbugs” and “bed bugs” mentioned in books:

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 1.19.51 AM

Christopher Moore asks in the Myrmecos comments, of the ngram image above:

What is really curious to me, however, are the long-term peaks. They both peak at the onset of the World Wars! Why on Earth would this be?

Great question!

Actually, it looks like there are multiple peaks related to each of the periods of World War I and World War II.

The detail isn’t close enough for me, but I would suspect they are aligned with the greatest movements of people — which may have occurred earlier in the war (troops and others went to war, people on the home front often had to move or take in lodgers) and again at the end of the war and aftermath, when troops and workers displaced by the war went home and many refugees moved around Europe and the world.

More people moving around = more bed bugs.

Think of the claim that the 2000 Syndey Olympics brought bed bugs to all areas of Australia (as in this Australian news report from 7 Perth) and likewise spread them around Europe and North America (see David Cain in this 2007 BBC report).

And then multiply that level of human movement many, many times over.

That’s my hunch, though, I’d be interested to hear your opinions on that.  Please hit the comments below!

Thanks to Myrmecos, and to Bedbugger user EffeCi (a.k.a. Franco Casini, whose amazing bed bug photo galleries need no translation) for bringing the Myrmecos article to my attention.

1 NotSoSnug March 3, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Fun tool! If you play with the graph settings you can see different patterns.

“Bedbugs” (using corpus operator):

“Bed bugs” (using corpus operator):

The graphs with the usage of “bed bugs” seems to have more detail (smoothing to “3”) with the same size of sample population (smoothing to “0”), so possibly these were academic in nature.

Since it’s apparent “bedbugs” is more popular we’ll stick with that.

“Bedbugs” (British English):

“Bedbugs” (American English):

The Bits peak at 2x the US during WWI and the Brit initial peak is 1915, implying either the books referencing bedbugs from late 1914 were now published, or the trench warfare which came along in 1915 increased the infestations.

So yes it looks like the bedbugs increased with troop movement but one can draw mistaken conclusions using solely book references. If you look at the “bed bugs” corpus graph you can see a clear drop in 1929, implying the “Crash” affected book publishing rather than “bed bugs” populations reduced. Also, there seems to be recurrent cycles of 6 years in many decades starting around the 03 and ending around the 09. Is this reflective of publishing cycles or author psychology?

2 nobugsonme March 3, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Excellent points, NotSoSnug!

Hmmm, I am thinking of an interesting artsy banner idea. Bed bugs marching off to World War I… including bed bug ambulance drivers and nurses. 🙂

3 David Cain March 4, 2013 at 8:00 am

Great post, aside from anything else it illustrates that bedbugs have been a significant issue in the past and although its difficult to draw conclusions from this other than publishing trends I hope it encourages others to look back to the past to see the logic that helped then and apply it to the present and future.

There is a wealth of historical information out there. I have a lot of field observations from what I was seeing in 2003-2004 to have known then movement of people was always going to be a massive factor with “exposure” pests but as non of it was collected under scientific conditions its not possible to present it.

I prefer Bed Bug myself as it reflects the origin of the word in modern language where bug comes from the Welsh for ghost or spirit inferring a ghost of the bed. As most people see the signs before the insect it appeals to the poetic side of my nature.

Great post though and honestly not just because the mention of my fav BBC clip, I was watching it the other day and though OMG I look so much younger then.

David Cain
Bed Bugs Limited

4 Lou Sorkin March 4, 2013 at 11:22 am

Bed Bug as 2 words makes more sense to me for various reasons noted above.

5 NotSoSnug March 4, 2013 at 7:36 pm

@NoBugs: I can see it now, and all to the music of…

“Pack up your bedbugs in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile,
Though you’ve got enough of them to make you gag,
Smile, boys, that’s the style.
What’s the use of worrying?
It never was worth while, so
Pack up your bedbugs in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile.”

6 nobugsonme March 5, 2013 at 12:49 am

Perhaps the basis for the world’s second musical about bed bugs?

7 CarpathianPeasant March 5, 2013 at 10:51 am

Can we get back to something like “What, legally, is an infestation?”

8 nancylemay March 8, 2013 at 3:43 am

Ifyour on site and i can`t question anyboby than why the heck are they on. you know what for all these people that say they can get rid of them. b.s . pardon my french. you live in a building you cant. they are like cachoreoche how ever you spell that. My question was i left town for a few days , my dog Dash stayed with friends, then i had somebody sleep over for a couple hours, needless to say i have been living here for two an half years. can my dog have brought these little monster here or the couple hours creature. thank you, i would appreciate a response.

9 nobugsonme March 11, 2013 at 12:22 am

Hi nancylemay,
You seem angry, but I am not sure what you’re referring to, since I don’t see any other comments from you.
Anyway, it’s possible that your friend brought bed bugs in, or you did when you came back from another location. It’s probably unusual for a bed bug to ride in on a dog, but I won’t say it’s impossible.
Be sure you verify the presence of bed bugs with a visual ID (that means finding a bed bug, cast skin or feces, and having an expert confirm the ID). You can’t go by bites alone.
If you want to discuss this further, please post your question in the user forums: http://bedbugger.com/forum
You will get more responses this way.

10 I'veSeenTheEnemy April 10, 2013 at 1:38 am

Hey fellow warriors, I’m new to the battle, so this is probably old info that everyone knows & I just haven’t seen it yet but— I’m using a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol to stop them. It stops them in their tracks, tho some do have “zombie” abilities and they “come back from the dead”. Still, it immobilizes the lil bastards long enough for you to scoop them up and drop them into a small container (I use a little styrofoam cole slaw container from KFC with a clear lid so I can keep count of the casualties) is that morbid? I don’t care, it’s research right? I wouldn’t recommend spraying some finishes on wood because it can harm some, but test it out. Other than that, it hasn’t had a negative effect on anything & it disinfects too. I felt awful about the b.b.s til my husband worked at a house that was infested with scorpions & brought home 7 in a jar for me to see. So- it could be worse!

11 I'veSeenTheEnemy April 10, 2013 at 1:43 am

One more thing, does anyone know if geccos or lizards eat bedbugs? I think I could handle one or two of those if they eat bedbugs. Hmmm, more research.

12 nobugsonme April 10, 2013 at 2:33 am


We’ve been told 91% rubbing alcohol works best as a contact killer (if you’re using 70%, perhaps the greater concentration would be more effective?) but be careful– it’s extremely flammable.

More than one person in the news has burned their home down after treating for bed bugs (you don’t need to smoke or light a match– sometimes electrical outlets or items just spark). These cases always seem to be in Ohio, for some reason, but it could happen anywhere.

Note also that a contact killer will only kill the bed bugs you see and spray directly. It’s not likely to solve the problem entirely. I strongly recommend the help and support in our active user forums: http://bedbugger.com/forum

Re: geckos and iguanas: see the comments on this post: http://bedbugger.com/2007/03/19/faq-is-there-an-insect-that-will-eat-bed-bugs/

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