Expand your U.K. IQ: Don't be blinded to a great expression
“Blimey!” is an exclamation of incredulity or surprise: “Blimey, it’s Jim! Haven’t seen you for ages.”
It is so mild in tone that it almost feels a bit childish or old-fashioned — or both — like something one of the Famous Five (characters in the British child-detective series) might say.
It is, nevertheless, still widely used. It is recorded in print from 1889 and is a corruption of either “Blind me!” or “Blame me!” (“blame” being an old euphemism for “damn”).
The variant “Gorblimey!” (from “God blind me”) is also heard; it is stereotypically followed by “… stone the crows!” but if someone says “Gorblimey, stone the crows!” they are probably being just a little facetious.
“Stone the crows” is another meaningless expression of surprise, originally Australian. Why someone who has had a mild surprise should want the crows stoned, or, indeed, themselves blinded, is a mystery.
Another extended form of the imprecation, well known if not commonly heard, is “Blimey O’Reilly!” O’Reilly (or O’Riley) is an Irish name, but the expression may come from a Vaudeville song sung by the Irish American singer Pat Rooney in the 1880s called “Are you the O’Reilly?”
The eponymous O’Reilly runs a hotel and dreams of becoming wealthy, and the chorus includes the lines, “Are you the O’Reilly that runs this hotel? … Are you the O’Reilly they speak of so highly? … Gorblimey, O’Reilly, you are looking well.”
The same song is often given as the origin of the phrase “Living the life of Riley.”
Mark Wainwright is a Ph.D. student in linguistics at Cambridge University. Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at: UKnews@mail.estripes.osd.mil