Sam Browne (‘an officer’) n. earlier than 1919

Sam Browne belts, designed by Samuel James Browne and originally worn by commissioned army officers, were first used in the 19th century.  From the term Sam Browne belt arose the U.S. military slang term Sam Browne meaning simply ‘a commissioned officer’. The first evidence we have for this slang usage is from 1919:

You..went to the movies chaperoned by a Sam Browne.

1919 Company Fund, p. 26/1

It is likely that the term was used during the First World War; can you help us find earlier evidence for the term in this sense?

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To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War (1914–18), the OED is revising a set of vocabulary related to or coined during the war. Part of the revision process involves searching for earlier or additional evidence, and for this we need your help. Our first quotations are often from newspapers and magazines, and we know that there may well be earlier evidence in less-easily-accessible sources such as letters, diaries, and government records, many of which are now being made available in digital form for the first time.

Posted by OED_Editor on 31 January 2014 15.03
Comments: 6

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  • Bryn_Wordhunt

    The Bruthen and Tambo Times, 26th April, 1918, page 12 [Col.7], has:

    A Humorist In The ArmyI Became a Junior Sub. by Ashley Sterne

    I remained for some weeks at the Cadet School, and then one day I was summoned to the orderly-room and informed that, as I had been no good in the infantry and what I knew about artillery work could all he inscribed on the back of a threepenny-bit and still leave room for the Ten Commandments, it had been decided, as a last resource, to threaten me with a commission. (I don’t mean a “brokerage 1-8” sort of commission, but a real Sam Browne commission.) In vain I told them all about the square on the hypotenuse. I gave an impassioned and heartrending recital of all the tangents and logarithms and cosecants and things which I could call to mind.

  • Bryn_Wordhunt

    Blyth, J. (1917) A Marriage For Two, London, John Long, page 311, has an encouraging, if intriguing, passage:

    And – if you see Gwennie Boyse tell her – tell her it was for her I got the Sam Browne, but I know now it’s no good. Percy told me so. He’s got his commission too.

  • xavier.-

    Also from 1919:

    “As usual, the Sam Brownes got the cream. They mixed freely with the nurses and the men were permitted to crowd up to the roped off sanctuary and water at the mouth.

    There were blamed few Sam Brownes on deck during the storm, however, so we got the use of the deck chairs for the time being.”

    Ray Neil Johnson, Heaven, Hell, Or Hoboken [Illustrated by Don Palmer-Vic Norris], pp. 183-183. Available here:

    “It wasn’t the privates or the acting corporals or the full-fledged Sam Brownes who […]”

    The American Legion Weekly, Vol. 1 (Legion Publishing Corporation, 1919). Available only as snippet view here:

  • Rik

    There are references in Boyce Albert Combe’s “Letters from B. A. C.: Afghanistan, 1878-80” published in 1880:

    “We have all discarded our uniform sword belts, and taken to the ‘Sam. Browne belt,’ which is now worn by almost every officer in the Force.” (48)

  • Macmillan’s Magazine, Vol 70, 1894 has a reference in the story “An Unfinished Rubber”, which also appears in “The Otago Witness” (a New Zealand newspaper) of 6 September 1894:

    “Annesley came out buckling the last strap of a new “Sam Browne”‘ belt, his eyes shining with exultation.”


  • Not specifically using “Sam Browne” to mean an officer, but certainly linking the two:

    “Then the warrior, searching for his cigarette case, unbuttoned his coat and disclosed the Sam Browne belt of an officer.”

    New Zealand Herald, 26 Feb 1916.