badges and buttons

I was in a meeting with a Pro Vice Chancellor last week (who would be a Vice Chancellor in most US universities, but in the UK the Chancellor position is mostly ceremonial, and the true head of the university is the Vice Chancellor--at least at a lot of universities). At that meeting he said that I had earned a Blue Peter badge--and added "You can put that one on your blog!" So, here I am doing that.

Blue Peter badges came up in a lunchtime conversation in Sweden last week, and happily there was a Scottish Welshman (or was he a Welsh Scot? I got confused) to explain that a Blue Peter badge is fairly equivalent to a gold star. In other words, it's a mark of merit that children get for extra special efforts.

The Blue Peter badge comes from the television program(me) Blue Peter, a children's show that's been on the BBC since 1958. The badges come in different colo(u)rs and are awarded to children for various kinds of good deeds. The badges are valuable in more than just sentimental ways, in that they allow holders free entry into various attractions--but this has not been without controversy. Trade in counterfeit and second-hand Blue Peter badges led the Edinburgh Zoo to stop accepting badges as entry passes. Apparently, Blue Peter badges are now issued with photo ID cards, so that holders of badges can prove their legitimacy.

I've never seen a BPb in the flesh, but they appear to be made of plastic, which is not necessarily what an AmE speaker would expect from something called a badge. With my AmE ears on, I would assume that a badge was cloth, like Girl Scout (in Britain and elsewhere, Girl Guide) badges. There are other kinds of badges (e.g. police badges), but the word badge is not used quite as generally in AmE as it is in BrE. In AmE, the BPb would probably be called a pin.

The type of usually round, plastic-coated thing-with-a-pin at the right (from the 'button collection' at the International Institute of Social History) is called a button in AmE and a badge in BrE.

And as my social studies teacher Mr Russell used to say, "That's all she wrote when the pencil broke." The 'pencil' in this case being my concentration...


  1. I would call it a badge because it's badge-shaped. If it were round or square or any other shape, I would call it a pin.

    It makes me think of the Bark of Peter, oddly enough.

  2. Why does your badge illustration sport a map of Cyprus? Anyway, the head of a Scottish University is traditionally called The Principal - as in England, the Chancellor is just a decoration. The Scottish Principals added the title Vice-Chancellor to explain their post to Englishmen. I don't know when that was done - presumably after the number of Universities in England had overtaken the number in Scotland, or perhaps when effective rule of all Universities had passed to Whitehall.

  3. At first blush, I'd say that I use 'badge' not as a particular object (although the metal, shield-shaped object comes first to mind), but something that grants authority or privilege ('we don't need no steenking badges!"). The thing you described with the boy-scouts, I would call a 'patch.' Patches might be worn by badge holders, but the actual badge is the talisman, the other just frillery.

  4. It occurs to me that 'shield-shaped' might not be as specific as I had intended. The classic deputy star, could also be called a badge (and a shield, perhaps), but I mean the... vaguely triangular shape which curves equally to a point on the bottom and has various ornamentations on the top.

  5. I think I was imagining BP badges as cloth because I'd never seen one until I googled the image for this post and I associated it with Girl Scout badges, which are another kind of badge earned by children for deeds done. I take other American's points that (a) the BP badge could be said to be 'badge-shaped'--i.e. shield shaped, which makes it more likely to be called a badge than if it hadn't been so-shaped, and (b) other things that are like Girl Scout badges (but not earned for merits) are called patches. But I don't agree that the physical manifestation of a Girl Scout badge would usually be called a patch. I earned Girl Scout badges (well, the easy ones) and had to sew badges (not patches) onto my uniform sash.

  6. Excuse the errors in the hastily-typed comment!

    I associated them with Girl Scout badges, and agreed with other Americans' points!

  7. As an American with a serious Anglo problem, particularly in the area of pop music, I first learned to call pins "badges" back in the punk rock days, when I had a complete set of Buzzcocks badges (and a lot of possibly counterfeit "Seltaeb" Beatles pins (American-made).

    Around that time, it was more or less obligatory to cover the lapels of your jacket, and the strap and flap of your bag, with as many pins as possible, and we quickly learned from the small-print ads in the back of NME and Melody Maker for mail-oprder concerns that they were called badges, not pins. "Badges" meant that you were hip, i.e., aware of the coolness of Britain. The ones on the counter at the record store were called pins, but we asked for them as badges (possibly with a trace of faux accent), and were understood by the clerks (probably with more than a few "twerps" muttered under their breath). I still have a ton of them.

  8. I have a lot of small, 1" circular badges on my bag, with bands or logos or slogans on them, and although I would call them badges, when I've bought them on eBay I've noticed they're being called 'pins' or 'buttons' a lot more than they used to be - American influence, maybe?

  9. Pop music related badges of the sort fnarf describes are making a bit of a comeback. A club night I go to regularly started handing them out a couple of months ago, for instance.

  10. I know several people who have band-related pins/badges all over their purses, backpacks, or lapels. They're fairly common at the concerts I've been to - I bought a set of them at a White Stripes concert a couple years ago.

  11. Incidentally, the day before I wrote this post, I didn't know what a BP badge looked like. The day after, I saw a student on campus wearing one and noticed that the Queen (or at least a collage representing the Queen) wears one (or wore one, they probably change the background pictures often) on Have I Got [Old] News for You. (Even more incidentally, Trevor MacDonald was one of the best hosts I've seen on that show--not that I've seen it a lot.)

  12. A button is something we use to fasten our clothes.

    A badge is something to denote that we are part of, or have achieved something. It can be of any shape or material.

    A pin is something to hold things together.

    A brooch is something ornamental that decorates one's lapel or dress.

    A decoration is something earned by conspicuous service of some description, and normally consists of a medal and a ribbon.

  13. Fascinating Discussion.

    In Girl Scouts of the USA the following hold true programmatically:
    A badge is an embroidered cloth recognition earned by a girl for completing specific tasks in an area of interest. Currently the shape of the cloth indicates which level of Girl Scouting may earn it.
    A patch is an embroidered or stamped cloth to commemorate an activity or event, program participation or as an identifier of membership in a local grouping. Patch may be in any shape.
    A pin is a pin, it may in fact mirror a patch and is used either to identify membership, position, awards and in some instances events. Pins are often shaped.
    Our ID Strips are the organization's official embroidered cloth emblems of membership. The strip set is two half-moon shaped pieces.

  14. A pin, to me, is a specific type of badge; one that functions like an earring - a sharp, point post-hole and a sort of butterfly clip at the back. Incidentally, in France, it is called " un pins", even when there's only one of them.

    Did you really write in pencil in your social studies classes?That, to me, is a mismatch between the implied age you were to be doing social studies (11+) and giving up doing schoolwork in pencil (c 8 or 9).

  15. Mrs R: There's no intended implication that we wrote in pencil's just a turn of phrase.

  16. Does Blue Peter not sound a bit (you should pardon the expression) off-color to BrE speakers?

  17. As an Englander, I'm with the Chairwoman all the way - though I would like to add my own two cents:
    1. a button can also be something that is there to be depressed, e.g, "I pushed the button to call the lift (elevator)"
    2.a badge (mostly (but by far from always) round & with a safety-pin for attachment on the reverse, or more recently (& increasing in usage) a butterfly clip) can simply hold a humorous bon mot, philosophical idea, etc. & does not necessarily denote achievement or membership of something.
    3. a pin can also be used to (e.g.) attach paper to a message board; it's a needle without an eye.
    4. decoration can be used to describe pretty-much anything that 'improves' the aesthetics of some other object (& is highly subjective).
    She didn't mention 'patch', which would generally be a scrap of cloth to conceal/repair a hole in material/clothing (logical extension: a patchwork quilt) - while also (as a badge) be decorative, may or may not denote affiliation, & could well be designed to provoke an emotional response.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)