Tuesday, February 12, 2008

bangers and bashers

Some actual work (of the publish-or-perish variety) has been encroaching on my maternity leave, which has left me little time for blogging...but here's a quickie.

Channel 4 has been advertising a documentary program(me) called 'Baby Bible Bashers'. Now, to American ears, this sounds like it could be about miniature Richard Dawkinses or Madalyn Murray O'Hairs, since we're used to hearing the word basher in such contexts as gay basher--i.e. someone who hates and beats up gay people. In BrE, however, Bible basher is the equivalent of AmE Bible banger--i.e. a fundamentalist an evangelical Christian (giving the image of a person who thumps their Bible while preaching). The program(me) seems to be about American child preachers. No surprise there, really, but it strikes me as ironic that the name of the documentary paints them as the opposite of what they are in their own dialect.

According to the OED (1989), both Bible basher and Bible banger are originally Australian/New Zealand terms, and the UK equivalent would be Bible pounder, Bible puncher or Bible thumper (the last of these would work in AmE too). I'd expect that this information will be updated significantly in the new edition (though it'll take them a while to get to B, as they started with M), to reflect the spread of the terms (a)round the globe. In the meantime, all of the OED's examples of Bible banger are antipodean.

Banger has other meanings in BrE...click here to find all discussions of banger on this blog... (Scroll down past this post after hitting the link.)

26 comments:

jhm said...

Here in New England, I have heard "basher," (from UK sources) while I hadn't seen the supposedly American "banger," before reading this post. My choice would be "thumper."

Anonymous said...

I am not very sure of the derivation , either , but I always get a small frisson when I hear one of the detectives on "Without a Trace" refer to a youth as a "gang-banger", which in USE certainly does not have the same meaning as in UKE .

malimar said...

WNY-raised me would go with 'bible-thumper', and all the others sound a little weird, particularly because of the double meanings. Of course, come to think of it, I've actually heard the pejorative 'bible-humper' more often than any of the others, but this is probably because several of my friends are hardcore atheists.

PapaScott said...

Yet another (US Upper Midwest) vote for thumper instead of banger.

Bec said...

That's funny - I'm Australian, and Bible basher to me means evangelical Christian, but I'd never really considered that it came from actually thumping the Bible. I guess I'd correlated it with ear-bashing, because it's someone who ear-bashes you about the Bible. I'm not sure I would ever use the term about someone preaching in a church, even if they did thump the bible, it's more used for people preaching to you at your door or at a party.

lynneguist said...

Anon--I've had other people write me about gang-banger, and have had to point out that the divide is not so clearly country-based as sometimes claimed (I think it may be more generation-based). Gang bang = 'gang rape' in both dialects. The agentive noun gang banger to mean 'street gang member' is definitely originally AmE, but it is used in the UK--for example, searching the Guardian archives turns up 28 occurrences of it to refer to gang members, not rapists.

lynneguist said...

Oh, and Bec--you're right, it's more about evangelism than fundamentalism--I'll correct that in the post.

Jonathan Bogart said...

Another AmE speaker (Southwest) who finds "Bible banger" very odd, with preference going to "Bible thumper."

John Cowan said...

Gang bangs need not be rapes, though undoubtedly they often are. Sometimes they are voluntary on the part of the bangee, or at least semi-voluntary.

jhm said...

I wouldn't consider myself to be any kind of an expert on either, but I make a distinction between the verb 'gang bang' meaning mass rape and the noun 'gang banger' which is a gun toting member of a criminal gang.

James said...

Another AmE speaker (mostly CA) who thinks nothing of "Bible thumper" and has never heard of "Bible banger". The number of Google hits seems to support this.

Anonymous said...

Cdn.E. reader here, familiar with 'bible thumping', never hearding of 'bible banging'.

lynneguist said...

OK, then thumper wins--but banger was definitely used in my crowd in Waco, Texas--where we were surrounded by such folk!

Cameron said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned this, but to me (ScE) a "bible banger" sounds like some kind of religious sausage.

Roger Green said...

Actually, I've seen Bible-thumpers actually thump the Bible, for emphasis

Expatmum said...

Funny - I had a converation today with someone about the term "gang-banging". When I first came to the States (1990) i cringed when I heard it as it definately meant "gang rape" in the UK. However, as US practices ( gangs) have spread, the meaning has widened.
In the UK, since it was a "church" state anyway, with a strong representation of Catholics, bible thumping was not really done and therefore not a big term.

Andrew said...

"Bible-bashing" is the only familiar one to my Australian ears. Probably its most memorable usage was by prime minister Gough Whitlam, who famously applied the epithet "Bible-bashing bastard" to Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen in the 1970s. Won't hear the likes of that again any time soon.

Wendy said...

I've heard both bible-banger & bible-thumper in common use all along the NE corridor, from Virginia to New York State. I've noticed an age difference in the use, Thumper more common among the 35+ crowd, Banger more often used under 25.

My kids use XX-banger for any number of things (Gang-banger, game-banger, ball-banger, bible-banger). My husband, from Colorado, prefers bible-thumper and finds bible-banger odd.

mollymooly said...

I've only ever heard of "Bible basher". Evangelicals are rare in my part of Ireland, though there is a new range of African immigrant churches. Maybe up in Ballymena they have a wider variety of terms. "Bible banger" strikes me as far odder than the other options listed.

And I would never have thought of "gang banger" meaning "gang member".

JohnB said...

Yes, its Bible Bashers for me (BrE) although I generally take people coming to my door to talk about my religion as an open invitation to question their religion, which can be great fun if I have the time to wind them up properly.

Personally I think any type of door to door selling is rude and impolite and the sellers deserve whatever they get. And in my book, door to door evangelists are just trying to sell me their religion.

As for gang banger - I too have only ever heard it in the sexual context.

Peter said...

Of course in England “banger “ is also a colloquial word for sausage and “Bangers and mash” are as popular as fish and chips.

Banger can refer to an old car ,probably hardly road-worthy-an old banger.

A banger can be a derogatory expression for a woman, who is free with her favours and most likely past her prime!

Ster said...

To my ears, "bible basher" sounds decidely negative, someone who hates the bible perhaps. While a bible thumper, although not in common use in New Jersey, at least not in my age group, would sound similar enough to "bible thumper" that I would ASSUME it to mean the same as bible enthusiasts, so enthusiastic that they literally thump the bible when preaching.

Mark Leslie Woods said...

I heard some folks from Alcoholics Anonymous in the UK referring to 'AA BIG Book Thumpers' and I think they lifted the word 'thumper' from their American colleagues in recovery circles.

An alternative that I've heard within both Evangelical and AA groups is the phrase 'Bible NAZI' or 'Big Book NAZI' obviously deriding (albeit good-natured, I hope) the zealouslness of fellow members, of each respective group.

Elizabeth said...

Okay, I know this is an old entry, but I only found your blog last night.

Anyway, I just wanted to note that at least in my corner of the world (Chicago) it's sometimes acceptable to drop the gang off of gang banger. So "He's a gang banger," and "Are you a gang banger?" are more often "He's banging," and "You banging?"

enitharmon said...

Does 'god-botherer', meaning much the same as 'bible-thumper', have any currency in AmE?

David Crosbie said...

On fundamentalist and evangelical.

The original wording of the OP was clearer from this British perspective.

The original sense of fundamentalist Christianity — conditional on the actual words of the Bible —has largely been lost here. We often speak of fundamentals Islam although all Muslims believe the Koran to be the word of God. The word has become a pejorative terms — often as strong as extremist, but sometimes much milder.

Evangelical has come full circle here to become a relatively neutral theological term. This is because 'the evangelical wing' of the Church of England has for some time featured in discussion outside the Church as well as within. The evangelicals are one of the two blocs opposed to the ordination of women — a subject which concerns many non-C of E and many non-Christians.

Evangelical describes their theology. If we want to criticise their supposed practices slightly, we call them happy-clappy. And if we really want to denigrate them, we call them fundamentalist.

I don't think many preachers actually beat the Bible nowadays, nor are many sermons based on hell and damnation. But the expressions bible basher and hell-fire preacher outlive the conditions of their coining. They are stereotypes, often at odds with reality, so the stereotypical term fundamentalist is a better fit.