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The OED has made a public appeal for help in tracing the history of some English words, including:


verb earlier than 1983

The word bimble, meaning ‘to move at a leisurely pace’, is sometimes said to have originated amongst British soldiers serving in the Falklands, and much of our early evidence supports this. However, one of our correspondents, who grew up in the north-east of England in the mid-20th century, says he remembers the word bimble from his childhood there. We’re looking for earlier evidence of the word to uncover the real story: is bimble a military coinage of recent vintage, or a north-eastern English dialect term with a longer history?

Here is the earliest example currently in OED for the verb bimble:

1983 R. McGowan & J. Hands Don’t cry for Me, Sergeant Major iv. 81 When the Marines moved at a slower pace they were ‘bimbling’.

Can you help us trace the origins of this word?

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See J.R.R. Tolkien: "Tales and Songs of Bimble Bay" – tchrist Oct 23 '12 at 20:39

7 Answers 7

From The First Saint Omnibus: An Anthology of Saintly Adventures (1939), page 269:

But the Duchess starts bimbling And wambling and wimbling And threatens to wallop his ducal behind;

Such a lovely phrase.

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Good find! Which story in the anthology is it from? Is it in "The Million Pound Day" (from The Holy Terror)? – Hugo Nov 7 '12 at 14:34
Whilst attempting to confirm the source, I found another bimbling in Leslie Charteris's The Holy Terror. Or rather the author Neil Gaiman did a couple of years ago: Per Bimble's 2007. "The Duke of Fortezza/Frequently gets a/Nimpulse to go bimbling off- " is 1932 – Hugo Nov 7 '12 at 14:43
Thanks @icecurtain, I've submitted all this to the OED. – Hugo Nov 24 '12 at 12:05
Is there more context that makes it clear what "bimbling" means in this passage? It doesn't really sound like the Duchess is "moving at a leisurely pace" so maybe you have found another meaning. Or is it just being used as a nonsense word? – Nate Eldredge Nov 24 '12 at 14:25
The OED replies: We've now investigated these potential antedatings from Charteris. As it turns out, they refer to the same passage. The promising phrase ‘to go bimbling off’ is a misquotation; the original reads ‘to go blithering off’. In the phrase ‘the Duchess starts bimbling and wambling and wimbling,’ bimble appears to be a fanciful nonsense word with uncertain sense, and we can’t be certain that it represents the same word which later came to mean ‘to wander or amble’. – Hugo Mar 24 '13 at 20:37

I recall using this word in the Royal Navy in the 1970s — prior to the Falklands Conflict.

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What did you use after the conflict? – Mitch Mar 24 '13 at 19:02
Thanks. Others recall using it in the 1970s in the Royal Marines and RAF. What the OED ideally needs is some kind of recorded evidence of its use. Obviously it's a lot harder with this sort of slang, but perhaps it's in a notebook or diary entry somewhere. Anyway, anecdotal evidence is still helpful to piece together the origin. – Hugo Mar 24 '13 at 20:54

Bill S found a bimble as a noun in 1980 which the OED has verified:

Snippett from "Roots of England", John Miller, Sid Waddell 1980

"Most said that getting their 'wets' [drinks] meant little involvement with the locals, but one Yorkshire seaman had weighed up the situation: 'When Jack [a sailor] gets a run ashore here, he's generally on the bimble [a night out] right?"

(More verbs before 1983 and nouns before 1980 still welcome!)

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I was very interested to read above that there's a strong Falklands link to this word. I lived in Stanley, FI (as a civilian) from 2003-2007. Since returning to the UK I've used the word without thinking about it. Twice recently I've had people ask me what it means/where it comes from. I was surprised, because I had thought it was universal, but on reflection realised I'd picked it up in the Falklands. I looked it up, to back up my explanation of what it meant, and came across this page.

So - it's still used in the Falklands, by the local population, and more common there than it is in the UK. Means a little trip, an aimless wander or explore. Could be on foot, or in the Land Rover, on or off road.

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astounding information! awesome... – Joe Blow Jun 8 at 6:22

I have an old photo of a black & white kitten called "Bimble 2" dating from early 1900's - probably the Victorian era. The "2" suggests that there was an even earlier cat called "Bimble".

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Are you suggesting a connection between the kitten's name and the word for a leisurely wander? – Hugo Apr 1 '14 at 14:47

I have always understood it to be an (unofficial) military acronym - Basic Infantry Manoeuvre But Lacking Effort. (BIMBLE)

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The word as used in the following excerpt doesn't involve wandering in a leisurely way, but there is something quite unexpected in this instance of bimbling from Sam Lonschein, My 83 Years: The Memoirs of a Veteran Zionist (1967) [combined snippets]:

The only bulletin notice in front of the building had his name written up by hand. The few friends whom I had sold about six tickets looked at me with suspicion. We sat down. Soon the artist appeared. Bowed graciously and sat down at the old piano in the middle of the stage. He threw his head backward and began to play something, but none of us understood what it was. After ten minutes of bimbling and moving his fingers over the instrument he stopped with a bang and stood up. There was little hand clapping from the first row. (All his relatives were in that row). He went backstage, then came out again and this time he played a Rumanian popular piece. It was a complete fiasco. The few people (strangers) walked out in disgust.

A few weeks later when I saw my printer friend he told me that Conrad Bercovici was not a pianist at all. The concert was arranged by his family to get together a few dollars as he had come over penniless from France to try his luck as a novelist in the English language. He also informed me that the "Tageblatt" had bought a story from him for $10.00 which they were now translating into Yiddish to be printed in some future number of the paper.

This is the story of the well known gypsy story novelist, Conrad Bercivici, who became famous in later years as a fiction story writer.

In this instance, bimbling may be a typo for bumbling, or it may be a neologism of the author's to describe a kind of aimless but exaggerated attempt to play an instrument without really playing it at all. In any case it seems highly unlikely to have had any influence on the emergence of bimble in the Falkland Islands 15 years later.

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