The mystic yogibogeybox
U 9.279-80: Yogibogeybox in Dawson chambers. Isis Unveiled. Their Pali book we tried to pawn.
Yogibogeybox is a word that has puzzled Joyce scholars. It seems to arrive fully formed in Ulysses, but is only partly explained. Gifford states that “the Hermetic Society met on Thursday evenings in Dawson Chambers at 11-12 Dawson Street in Dublin”, and cites Adams (ch. 8 pp. 208-9) recalling Stanislaus Joyce’s note on “box”:
The OED regards it as a “nonce-word”, occurring only once, and of course cites Joyce. It offers the definition “the paraphernalia of a spiritualist”, which is probably an attempt to explain the term literally, without awareness of Gogarty’s usage of “box”. It does, however, reliably posit an etymology based on the words yogi (an acetic), bogy/bogey (the devil, a goblin, a bugbear), and box (the container). Beyond that, it does not offer any evidence suggesting why Joyce should have used these components in constructing his word.
There is plenty of evidence that rooms at Dawson Chambers were used for society meetings in the early years of the twentieth century. Small ads such as this appeared regularly in the local papers:
Later James Starkey (“Seumas O’Sullivan) locates the Hermetic Society’s theosophical meetings in Room 46, Dawson Chambers:
The pre-history of yogibogeybox
The earliest record of the compound yogibogeybox is found in Ulysses, but this does not mean that it was entirely Joyce’s creation. It turns out that Joyce’s use was part of a tradition, in which elements of the word came to be associated with and redolent of mysticism and theosophy.
In late nineteenth-century America a passing reference to theosophy dismissively unites the yogi and bogy:
Soon, the two words came to be linked as yogi-bogi, in the sense of a mystic or an ascetic (“some old fakir”):
Although not common, the expression may be found in sources published after Ulysses, such as Ernest Large’s romance Sugar in the Air (1937, p. 70), where it applied to someone who goes out alone to watch birds:
The emergence of Joyce’s use
Joyce’s employment of yogibogeybox is interesting in that it is the first known occurrence of yogi-bogy being used with adjectival force as the initial element of a compound. In his first draft of chapter nine of Ulysses Joyce’s term is not yogibogeybox but the unexceptionable “Their room”. In late 1918 he changes this to "Their bogeybox in Dawson chambers” (in line with Gogarty’s use of “box” to mean “a hall where any Society holds meetings for some purpose, and bringing in the devils or sprites popularly associated with mystic practices). It is not until the Rosenbach manuscript that Joyce changes it again to "Yogibogeybox in Dawson chambers", retaining Gogarty’s slang and acknowledging the current use of yogi-bogy.
From noun to adjective
This adjectival use clearly enjoyed some popularity in the 1930s and 1940s. Rayner Heppenstall’s Apology for Dancing (1936, p. 136) offers:
and Robert Graves chooses the word in the context of asceticism (Collected Poems, 1958: p. 112):
Later we find this historical reference to mysticism:
Nowadays the usage is confirmed to such historical contexts, but in the 1920s Joyce was part of a tradition which applied the dismissive term for a mystic or ascetic, a yogi-bogy, as an adjective to anything which smacked of the occult, the supernatural, or the unknown.
Joyce's Words >