Bimbos and himbos

I recently ran across the portmanteau himbo (him + bimbo), a male counterpart to bimbo. Turns out that bimbo has a complex history and a variety of senses in current English, with this variety of senses reflected in the way himbo is used.

Let’s start with bimbo, which OED2 labels as slang (orig. U.S.).  The OED lists two senses in the second edition and adds a third sense in the draft additions of 2004:

a. A fellow, chap; usu. contemptuous.

1919   Amer. Mag. Nov. 69/1   Nothing but the most heroic measures will save the poor bimbo.

1924   P. G. Wodehouse Bill the Conqueror xx. 285   The bimbo Pyke arrived.

1936   R. Chandler Killer in Rain (1964) 53   There’s a thousand berries on that bimbo. A bank stick-up, ain’t he?

1947   P. G. Wodehouse Full Moon v. 90   Bimbos who went about the place making passes at innocent girls after discarding their wives.

b. A woman; esp. a whore.

1929   Amer. Speech 4 338   Bimbo, a woman.

1937   Detective Fiction Weekly 3 Apr. 20/2   We found Durken and Frenchy LaSeur, seated at a table..with a pair of blonde bimboes beside them.

1953   S. Kauffmann Philanderer xii. 194   Not that you were just a bimbo to me… I’ve discovered that I’m a little in love with you, too.

[c.] derogatory. A young woman considered to be sexually attractive but of limited intelligence. (Now the usual sense.)

1927   Vanity Fair (N.Y.) Nov. 67/2   Among some of Conway’s more famous expressions are: ‘Bimbo’ (for a dumb girl); [etc.].

1976   ‘W. Allen’ Without Feathers 33   Sure, a guy can meet all the bimbos he wants. But the really brainy women—they’re not so easy to find.

1988   Stage 4 Aug. 17/5   The empty-headed hair-twisting bimbos who describe themselves as ‘singer, actress, and model’.

2002   Empire Dec. 156/4   The Mangler 2..gets points for the most gratuitous jiggle of the year as bimbo prefect Daniella Evangelista flees the killer dressed fetchingly in a Hawaiian luau outfit.

NOAD2 expands on sense c, but adds the component of sexual availability (corresponding to the ‘whore’ subsense from sense b):

bimbo (also bimbette) informal: an attractive but empty-headed young woman, esp. one perceived as a willing sex object.

(Both dictionaries have Italian bambino ‘baby’, shortened to bimbo, as the etymological source.)

In a similar vein, AHD5 has:

Slang. A person, typically a woman, regarded as being intellectually vacuous and having an inordinate interest in appearing sexually seductive.

But the on-line Merriam-Webster moves further into sexual territory:

Slang: a boldly flirtatious or sexually promiscuous woman <a scandal involving a bimbo that effectively ended the congressman’s career>

and gives the following list of synonyms: chippie (also chippy), doxy (also doxie), fancy woman, hoochie [slang], hussy, Jezebel, minx, quean, slut, tramp, trollop, wench, whore. And the following list of “related words”:  siren, temptress, vamp; grisette, harlot, prostitute, trull .

Different senses co-exist in current usage, as the Wikipedia entry (which introduces himbo) notes:

Bimbo, in its popular English language usage, describes a woman who acts in a sexually promiscuous manner. The term can also be used to describe a woman who is physically attractive but is perceived to have a low intelligence or poor education. The term itself is not necessarily negative, but is sometimes used as a derogatory insult towards a woman and sometimes as a jocular, slightly flattering description.

The first usage of the term Bimbo in English was for an unintelligent male, although it now most commonly used to refer to a woman unless modified as male bimbo or himbo.

… An unintelligent man can be referred to as a ‘himbo’

Green’s Dictionary of Slang has a much more detailed history than the OED:

the earliest use of bimbo is synon. with ‘bozo’ to mean a man, prob. unintelligent; overtones of thuggery appear c. 1920. A parallel use was that to mean ‘baby’, abbr. from the Italian bambino. By the 1920s the word also meant young woman, often a prostitute; simultaneously it meant a tramp’s companion, poss. gay. The writer Jack Conway (of Variety magazine) used it spec. to mean a ‘dumb girl’. Bimbo gained a new currency during the 1980s when it came to describe a young woman, usu. something of a gold-digger and indulged as such by rich and/or powerful older men and the media to whom they tell or sell their tales. The original 1980s bimbo was a ‘model’, Fiona Wright, who delighted the press with revelations of her relationship with Sir Ralph Halpern, a millionaire businessman

The sense development is puzzling in its details, but it’s clear that there are now two main threads, ‘beautiful but dumb’ and ‘promiscuous, slutty’, with uses that slide between the two. This semantic variety carries over to himbo, where the ‘handsome but dumb’ sense seems to dominate. The on-line Merriam-Webster has “an attractive but vacuous man”, with a first known use of 1988 — which it probably gets from Paul McFedries’s Word Spy entry:

A man who is good-looking, but unintelligent or superficial.

Example Citation: After three Garbage albums, Manson hasn’t yet become a tedious pop princess. Undeniably charismatic, she can be distinguished from most of the pop world’s thrusting teens and vainglorious himbos by one easy test: she has opinions. —Sacha Molitorisz, “Talking Trash,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 25, 2002

Earliest Citation: After a ruckus at the Robert Redford press conference early in the two-week run that left one injured reporter, festival-goers were hungry for violence. (Sex was commonplace, from a Melanie Griffith look-alike stuffed into her gown like salami in spandex to the macho himbo who strutted the Croisette wearing a 16-foot python like a stole around his shoulders and neck.) —Rita Kempley, “At Cannes, All Ham, No Glam,” The Washington Post, May 29, 1988

Notes: The word “himbo” is the result of a linguistic sex-change operation that sutured the male pronoun him onto the usually feminine insult bimbo. (Although bimbo is often dressed in a gender-neutral suit that gives it a meaning similar to bozo; i.e., a stupid or useless person.) It’s a better blend than the less intelligible mimbo (male bimbo) mix that was coined in a Seinfeld episode.

Another cite, with both bimbo and himbo:

Biggest Celebrity Bimbos/Himbos
Female (or male) stars who get by on glam, but leave us scratching our heads. Do they have talent, or is it something else that keeps them in the spotlight? Some are trainwrecks some are just amusing. (link) [Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, …; David Hasselhoff, Tom Cruise, Ashton Kutcher, …]

But then there are clear ‘male slut’ cites, like this one:

Their ill-chosen husbands had affairs with other women, but Harold?  Harold had affairs with gadgets.  Though unlike her daughters’ himbo husbands, Harold always returned to her. (link)

There’s a cluster of features here: physical attractiveness, superficiality or intellectual vacuity, promiscuity. While it’s clear that in the real world, these three features are independent of one another, they tend to be stereotypically associated, in a kind of package deal.

 

4 Responses to “Bimbos and himbos”

  1. Stephen R. Anderson Says:

    Since bimbo is in fact masculine in Italian (the feminine counterpart being a bimba), it seems that what’s wanted here is etymology, not coinage.

  2. Mike Pope Says:

    I’m not sure what sense exactly this captures, but in the world of politics, there is the occasional “bimbo eruption,” i.e., revelations of sexual escapades associated with a candidate. (Per the infallible Wikipedia, this term was coined by Betsey Wright for the 1992 Clinton campaign.) I suppose that, as with “bimbo” == “whore”, there are larger cultural issues in play here than just what the narrow definition is of the term. It makes one wonder whether the term could be adapted if the politician in question was found to be carrying on with a male — would that by a “himbo eruption”?

  3. Licia Says:

    In Italian, bimbo [masculine] is synonymous with bambino, but it tends to be used mainly when talking to younger children and in informal speech, where it has connotations of endearment and/or affection. Incidentally, in Italian bambino does not mean just “baby” but mainly “child” (if it’s not clear from context, we specify bambino piccolo to mean “baby”).
    As you can imagine, the English usage of the word bimbo sounds most peculiar to Italian ears!

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