View OED entry

bimble verb earlier than 1983

Bill S provided a verifiable example of ‘bimble’ as a noun from 1980.

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’.

R. McGowan & J. Hands

Can you help us trace the origins of this word?

Posted by OED_Editor on 18 October 2012 6.30
Comments: 9

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  • I first heard the word ‘bimble’ in Lancashire in the late 1980s (lovely word).

  • Hugo

    I didn’t find anything in print earlier than 1983, but these might be of interest: three people remember it was used in the RAF and Royal Marines in the 1970s, it might be etymologically related to bumble and bimbo or possibly the German bummel.


    The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang (2007) suggests a slightly different etymology: “to wander without purpose. A variation of ‘bumble’ (to idle), perhaps with reference to BIMBO (‘a dupe’, hence ‘mindless’)


    Royal Marine Commando 1950-82: From Korea to the Falklands (2009) by Will Fowler lists it in the glossary of “accepted military abbreviations and Royal Marine slang”.


    A discussion on alt.english.usage includes this from Peter Brooks:

    It sounds like a synonym for ‘bummel’ – as in Jerome K. Jerome’s ‘Three men on a Bummel’. Less famous and less good than ‘Three men in a boat’, but worth a read anyway. ” bummel, n. and v. (‘b?m?l, ‘b?m?l) [a. G. bummel a stroll, bummeln to stroll; cf. bummer3.] A.A n. A leisurely stroll or journey. B.B v. intr. To stroll or wander in a leisurely fashion. Hence ‘bummelling vbl. n., wandering, sauntering.    [1891 Pall Mall Gaz. 29 Aug. 3/2 The verb to ‘bummeln’, apparently an equivalent of the French ‘flâner’.    Ibid., We do not ‘bummeln’ so much or so thoroughly as the Germans.]    1900 J. K. Jerome (title) Three Men on the Bummel.    Ibid. xiii. 284 He?lays out his time bummelling, beer drinking, and fighting.    Ibid. xiv. 327 A ‘Bummel’? I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end.    1909 Daily Chron. 24 July 6/4 Hitherto it has been the proud prerogative of males [in Berlin] to ‘bummel’ (loaf).    1947 F. Smythe Again Switzerland x. 187 It is an easy mountain?a ski runner’s ‘bummel’.    1952 H. W. Tilman Nepal Himalaya ii. xviii. 212, I had already been ‘bummeling’ about Nepal for five months. ”!topic/alt.usage.english/kT2kEbFVNio

    (Plus others commented “It’s not made it into the OED yet.” and “I’m sure the OED will pick it up soon enough. They can do the legwork.” 🙂 


    I also appears to be in The Making of a Royal Marine Commando (1987/8) by Nigel Foster:’I look at my husband sometimes, when he’s bimbling around the house, and think, “Can you really be a Royal Marine, you’re just so relaxed – how can you do your job!” …”Ace Animal run Banjo Banyan Bimble Bite Bootneck/Bootie Bombed out Boss Brill/Brills Brammer Bronzy Bug-out Buzz Cheese-down Chuck one up Cloggie Common dog Crab/Crab Air Crack Crappers Cream in Crimbo Dig out (blind) …” 2011 discussion about Royal Air Force Banter on The Professional Pilots Rumour Network includes this from a user posting as Airborne Aircrew:”On II Sqn in the late 70’s and early 80’s we referred to any “walk in the hills with large packs on” as a Bimble…”And from Fox3WheresMyBanana:”Lovely word, ‘Bimble’; was certainly in use in the early ’80s. Equated to a speed of about 360 kts in a fast jet. Time to take in the view.”And from airborne_artist:”Bimble was certainly in use in the Services in the 70s and 80s and generally described a less than purposeful sortie (by air or on foot) that took up time but did not probably deliver much in the way of results. It may also have been used ironically “ a post by Stonker on on the ARmy Rumour SErvice:> Where does the term Yomp come from anyway?

    RM – beyond that, it’s a mystery. They also used to talk about ‘bimbling’ – less physically strenuous (I first heard both in S Armagh in 1976, when taking over from a Booty Troop) 

    Entered popular usage nationally in 1982, along with ‘tabbing’ courtesy of the journos who accompanied the RM and the Paras across the Falklands.

    The Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language (2005) says:ARGOT. The SLANG of a restricted, often suspect, social group: ‘They have their own argot: they bimble, yomp, or tab across the peat and couth a shirt in readiness for a Saturday night bop with the Bennies (locals)’ (Colin Smith, Observer, 26 May 1985, writing about British soldiers in the Falkland Islands).

  • Hugo

    I don’t think that’s quite the same, the other misspellings make it look more imitative of someone’s strong accent, perhaps he meant “bumbling”.

  • Bill S

    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?”

  • Jamie Waddell

    I joined the Royal Marines in 1972  and served 12 years.This word was common place in our vocabulary. Like most service sayings some are unique to a service and as far as I’m aware we were the only service that used it and I’ve worked with them all. As we were known for our serious ‘yomps’ hiking long distances carrying heavy loads, the alternative was known as a bimble; a simple ‘amble’ but with a little more discipline.

    • OED_Editor

       This looks promising. Our researchers will check the quotation in an original copy of the book.

  • hugo_oed

    Here’s a 1939 that might originally be a 1932, and another 1932.

    I posted this appeal to the English Language & Usage website and user icecurtain found “bimbling” in Leslie Charteris’s 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;”

    I think this is from the story “The Million Pound Day” from the book The Holy Terror (1932), but I’ve not been able to confirm it.

    Whilst attempting to confirm the source, I found another bimbling in Leslie Charteris’s The Holy Terror (1932). 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

    • OED_Editor

      Thanks, Hugo. 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’.

      1932 L. Charteris Holy Terror ii. vii. 181
      The Duke of Fortezza Quite frequently gets a Nimpulse to go blithering off on
      the blind, But the Duchess starts bimbling And wambling and wimbling And
      threatens to wallop his ducal behind; And her Ladyship’s threats are So fierce
      that he sweats a Nd just sobs as he pets her With tearful regrets—Ah! The Duke
      of Fortezza Is changing his mind.

  • Of course it does Matthew!