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The Independent Online
Every professional golfer fears a bogey, even if for many amateurs he would be a welcome companion on the course. These days that hardly counts as a linguistic ambiguity, just a difference of opinion about the desirability of being only one stroke over when you hole out. But if you look at the history of the word, you see that it provides a perfect example of how malleable sporting terms are when a game is still being codified.

Originally "bogey" referred to what would now be universally known as "par" (a term borrowed from the Stock Exchange) - that is, the scratch score for each hole, against which players test themselves.

According to an account quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, utterly convincing in its period detail, if nothing else, the term originated in 1890, when Dr Thos Browne RN, the honorary secretary of Great Yarmouth Club, was playing a round against a Major Wellman (an inter-service fixture, obviously). Wellman, unfamiliar with the relative novelty of playing against the course and finding that he was consistently behind, declared that his invisible opponent was "a regular bogey-man", a reference to a popular music hall song of the time.

The idea stuck in Great Yarmouth and then spread, along with the innovation of Bogey tournaments, in which, effectively, one played against a ghostly, perfect player.

These days, as every golfer knows, a bogey describes a score of one over par, an American deviation from the British original, which has its explanation in new technology rather than transatlantic cussedness.

When the new rubber golf ball was invented in 1898 scores established for the gutta-percha ball became rather easier to match. While the British kept the word bogey, the Americans switched to "par" for course standard, retaining bogey for the old expectation - as often as not one over par.