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Earning Brownie Points Posted by on Aug 28, 2020 in American history, Culture, idioms, Speaking English

The other day I heard a radio ad in which someone said that he had, “…earned quite a few brownie points” with his girlfriend after sending her a bouquet of flowers. Even if you’ve never heard the expression before, you probably can understand the meaning of the term just from the context of the sentence. Brownie points clearly mean that she was pleased with the gesture. It’s something like a reward. But where does the expression come from? Is he going to get brownies?

Image by ishwarsundararaman from Pixabay, CCO

In fact, there are several theories regarding the origin of the term, but, oddly enough, brownie points have nothing to do with one of the world’s most favorite chocolate baked goods. The first known use of the expression seems to have come from the period just after the Second World War, so it is safe to say that just before the middle of the 20th century is where we must look to understand the etymology of the phrase.

The Girl Scouts

The Girl Scout Brownies were first recognized in the 1920s. Upon joining the Girl Scouts, girls are given a vest to indicate their age level. Kindergarteners and first graders are presented with blue vests, brown vests are worn by students in Grades 2 and 3, Green vests are given to girls in Grades 4 and 5, and tan vests are worn by girls in Grades 6 through 12. Thus, girls in second and third grades are called Brownies, and they earn merit badges for every six good deeds they perform. Brownies also are likened to the mythological Brownie sprites, little elfin creatures who perform good deeds around a home. Each deed is the equivalent of a point, a Brownie Point!

Brown Stamps

Following World War II, many retailers relied on a popular method to ensure customer loyalty. They handed out stamps to their customers after each purchase, and these stamps were collected into specially made stamp books. The more stamps that customers collected, the greater the value of the item the stamp could be redeemed, or traded for. Many households acquired their first toasters or waffle irons with stamps they saved and eventually redeemed. The first stamps were brown in color, and each stamp represented a point towards some future reward. However, the most popular stamps were the S&H Green Stamp company, which came to all but monopolize the stamp book trade beginning in the late 1950s. Still, some businesses today continue the practice of giving out stamps for loyal customers to redeem for later rewards.

The Brown-Noser

There are some who believe that the term derives from a military expression from the Second World War. A brown-noser in the Army is someone who will do or say just about anything to their superior officer in order to curry favor with the officer. The expression “brown-noser” or “ass-kisser” has moved into popular lexical usage among pretty much everyone, but it could also easily be shortened to “brownie.”

 

Which of these theories sounds like the most logical origin of the term “brownie points to you?

 

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