[Corpora-List] RE: Numpties and bennies

Merle Tenney merlet at microsoft.com
Sat Dec 9 02:41:00 CET 2006

Speaking as a 'Merkin, I can say that "numty" is certainly not well-known on this side of the pond, in a pejorative or other context. Whether it might gain any currency in the future, I couldn't speculate, but for the moment I think it is not likely to be associated with Down syndrome.

"Bennie" is indeed used as a reference to Benzedrine tablets. That usage is not at all obscure. As to any reference to an intellectually challenged person, I have never heard it used that way. There is a well-known character from Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" named Lennie who is intellectually challenged. A quick Web search turned up an interesting (to me) reference to two Warner Brothers cartoon characters, named Bennie and George (aka Sylvester the Cat) in a clear parody of Lennie and George from "Of Mice and Men." Here is the URL: http://www.planetpapers.com/Assets/5228.php Notwithstanding this cartoon, I do not believe that "Bennie" is used over here as a common nickname for a slow-witted person.


-----Original Message-----
From: owner-corpora at lists.uib.no [mailto:owner-corpora at lists.uib.no] On Behalf Of Harold Somers
Sent: Wednesday, December 6, 2006 4:06 AM
To: corpora at lists.uib.no
Subject: [Corpora-List] Numpties and bennies

A colleague has just emailed me suggesting that the word "numpty" has
become non-PC because of its association with Downs syndrome. I've never
made that association ... Has anyone else?

A trawl of the standard "references" suggests that numpty is a Scottish
slang word (meaning 'idiot' or 'incompetent person') and is being
considered fro inclusion in the next edition of the OED; but
interestingly its total absence from the BNC suggests either that it has
only recently entered the language, and/or that Scottish English is
under-represented in the BNC.

Would I be right in thinking that the word is entirely unknown in AmE?

On a similar theme, I was thinking about the word "benny", a slang term
which had a brief life in BrE. With the same meaning as numpty, its
etymology is a character in a soap (Crossroads I think) called Benny who
was "intellectually challenged". I seem to remember a news article
during the Falklands War in which soldiers were being admonished because
their slang word for Falkland Islanders was "bennies".

"A benny" occurs twice in the BNC, both times in the same source (KCE -
a conversation recorded by `Helena' (PS0EB)) as follows:

KCE 7007 so she had a bit of a benny it was
KCE 7260 I hadn't had a benny for a few days actually

Helena also talks about "bennies":
KCE 7258 Not that I ever have major bennies or anything

I'm guessing that here she means a "benzedrine" tablet, though that
interpretation doesn't really fit the syntax (a bit of a benny, major
bennies). Anyone any idea what a benny is in this context? (Perhaps the
surrounding text can help - what is the topic of the conversation?).

There's one other occurrence of "bennies" in the BNC, from "Skinhead" by
Nick Knight, the meaning of which I think is "Ben Sherman shirts"
ARP 213 Most skinhead girls, sometimes called rennes, would wear
bennies, button-fly red tags, white socks and penny loafers or monkey

Harold Somers

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