This word may have that high-sounding Latin-looking us ending, but you just know that it’s the us that likewise graces (or disgraces) doofus, dorcus, and similar epithets – the extended index finger of its high sound is not apodictic or apotropaic but simply there to poke us, and so this word is less bonus and more onus. It has all the bluntness of the voiced stops, making what could be the end of hocus-pocus into something so much less clever-sounding, and its core is the ominous, odious, or simply moaning long puckering /o/. That bo is bumptious enough, bowling you over from the start, and then along comes its brother, not Luke but gus. Oh, and they’re big, those buggers – ahem, beggars. They come boogeying out of the bog with a bag of bugs and boogers, and, dude, it’s bogus!
Duuuude. Remember Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? Of course you do, even if you never saw it. Unless you weren’t around in 1989 to see Keanu Reeves get his big leap into stardom. (Refresh your memory, or find out what I’m talking about – here’s the trailer.) Anyway, bogus was their word for “bad” – a word they liked enough that the sequel to the movie was Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (they go to Hell).
There was also another movie with Bogus in its title: Bogus, 1996, starring Whoopie Goldberg, Haley Joel Osment, and Gerard Depardieu as Bogus (an imaginary French musician). Never heard of it? Apparently it was pretty bogus – Goldberg got a Razzie nomination for it. But it was directed by Norman Jewison!
Bogus isn’t bad news for everyone. If you live near Boise, Idaho, and you ski, Bogus Basin will be your bag. And if you speak Indonesian or Malay, bogus will remind you of bagus, which means “good”. But for most people, bogus means “fake” or “counterfeit” – common words for it to modify include claims, checks (or cheques to non-Americans), cards, charges, argument, documents, bills… It’s pretty much equivalent to spurious, but where spurious spears, bogus bludgeons. Spurious sounds like spearmint, which still has a mint, but bogus is the kind of money that you get from a bogeyman.
Some people think it may have a connection to bogey, too. It’s hard to say for sure, though. The most standard account of its epiphany is in application to a machine for counterfeiting money, in 1827 (it transferred thereafter to coins made by such a machine). It has been suggested that it is a shortening of tantrabogus, an eastern American vernacular term for “any ill-looking object”. This might in turn be related to a Devonshire term for the devil, tantarabobs, which may in turn relate to bogey. But who knows? That could all be bogus.