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?

  • 1
    See J.R.R. Tolkien: "Tales and Songs of Bimble Bay"
    – tchrist
    Oct 23, 2012 at 20:39
  • As noted by tchrist, "bimble occurs in Tolkien's poem cycle "Tales and Songs of Bimble Bay" This was apparently by Tolkien's (ex-OED person himself)visit to Filey and the coastal part of the north riding of Yorkshire. is their any chance the regional dialect might be the source of bimble? Jan 28, 2018 at 18:10
  • We used Bimbling or Bimble all the time when I was at my 1st RAF Posting in 1979/80 at RAF Honnington, it was in use at other stations as well. Aug 4, 2020 at 14:30
  • W W Jacobs wrote a sequel to the better known "Three Men in a Boat" called "Three Men on the Bummel" about the same three characters touring rather aimlessly around Germany at the turn of the 20th century. He explains that "Bummel" is a word for gentle, more or less aimless travelling. I wonder whether "Bummel" is the origin of "Bimble" and also, possibly, of the American word "bum"
    – BoldBen
    Aug 5, 2020 at 2:15

8 Answers 8


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.

  • Good find! Which story in the anthology is it from? Is it in "The Million Pound Day" (from The Holy Terror)?
    – Hugo
    Nov 7, 2012 at 14:34
  • 2
    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 bit.ly/9SPhiT Bimble's 2007. "The Duke of Fortezza/Frequently gets a/Nimpulse to go bimbling off- " is 1932 bit.ly/bAzs5t
    – Hugo
    Nov 7, 2012 at 14:43
  • Thanks @icecurtain, I've submitted all this to the OED.
    – Hugo
    Nov 24, 2012 at 12:05
  • 1
    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? Nov 24, 2012 at 14:25
  • 4
    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, 2013 at 20:37

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!)


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.

  • astounding information! awesome...
    – Fattie
    Jun 8, 2015 at 6:22

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.


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

  • What did you use after the conflict?
    – Mitch
    Mar 24, 2013 at 19:02
  • 1
    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, 2013 at 20:54

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


I remember this word from childhood in Seventies and Eighties. My Mum used to use it to mean a little fun walk or an outing. She was born and brought up in Bury, Lancs (she was born 1944). The military connection interests me as her Dad served in the army in WW2 in France.

  • 1
    This anecdote counts as hearsay; it is, unfortunately, insufficient for supporting evidence.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 13, 2022 at 12:41

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".

  • 1
    Are you suggesting a connection between the kitten's name and the word for a leisurely wander?
    – Hugo
    Apr 1, 2014 at 14:47

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