I might be interested if the tiles were edible.

Dear Word Detective: I come from Scotland but now live in the U.S. I was playing a Scrabble game and used the word “bing” but it was not in the Scrabble dictionary. I am sure my husband used it when talking about the coal mines. Maybe it was slang. Any help you can give me will be much appreciated. — Sophie Murray.

Oh boy, Scrabble. I love word games. Wait, no, sorry, I just remembered that I actually hate word games. The rub is that people naturally assume that I must be very good at word games, which I am not. Perhaps I could be if I tried, but I don’t plan to try. I’m with grammarian Geoffrey Pullum when he says, “The expressive power of human language is barely adequate to convey the profound level of apathy word puzzles provoke in me.” (You can read his entire rant, which I heartily recommend, here).

I’m not sure who concocts Scrabble dictionaries or what criteria they use when admitting words to their hallowed roster, but for my money they blew it in the case of “bing.” It is, as the Simpsons would say, a perfectly cromulent word.

“Bing” first appeared in English in the early 16th century meaning, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “A heap or pile: formerly of stones, earth, trees, dead bodies, as well as of corn, potatoes, and the like.” Although that general meaning is still in use in dialects of northern England, by around 1815, “bing” had acquired the specific meaning of “a heap of metallic, especially lead, ore” or alum ore, which explains how you husband came to mention it in connection with mines. “Bing,” since the late 17th century, had also been applied to the best, richest ores (“bing ore”). The root of “bing” in English is the Old Norse word “bing,” meaning simply “heap.”

One wonders, incidentally, when “cromulent” will make it into dictionaries. To quote Wikipedia on the term’s origins on The Simpsons, “When schoolteacher Edna Krabappel hears the Springfield town motto, ‘A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man,’ she comments she’d never heard of the word ’embiggens’ before moving to Springfield. Miss Hoover, another teacher, replies, ‘I don’t know why; it’s a perfectly cromulent word’.”

10 comments on this post.
  1. tdrinane:

    hmmmm . . .

    I remember in the days when I was working as a drug rehabilitation counselor in a residential treatment center (aka, prison lite), among the very rich street vocabulary I encountered was the reference to a disciplinary area as “the bing.” This was a sort of solitary confinement, which, because it was used to attempt to control recalcitrant residents, was also known as “the recal area.” As I recall, neither term was in favor with the administration, while bing was favored by residents and recal by officers.

    My favorite was the coinage of one of the residents of the term “recal bing.”

  2. Bingner:

    My Name is Steve Bingner. When my family first came to the USA from Germany in 1898 our surname was Bingener. My grandfather John Henry changed it to Bingner, he dropped the “e”. Using the information provided above, I would almost think that Bingner meant a person that worked with iron ore. (ner meaning person who worked with)

    The problem of course is that Bingner was not our name when we came to this country.

    What might the name Bingener have meant at the time it was created in Germany, if that is where it was in fact created.

    Thanks for your help.

    steve bingner

  3. detoxdiet:

    my initial test result shows that Bing is as good as Google when displaying relevant search results. Google might be having a tough competitor with Microsofts own search engine.

  4. malibu alcohol detox:

    I just started playing scrabble a week ago. To my surprise i won the first two match. :D Probably they got bored of waiting while i took my own sweet time to play my turn. Even though after winning two games, i still can’t figure out what you guys are talking about. :P I played Scrabble on facebook. its fun :D

  5. Erik Icenhour:

    Scrabble brings back lots of memories of my child hood! I play on the pc every now and again, and I have the iPhone app. Bascially i’m just a scrabble addict! Great post though thanks!

  6. Verlie Sheu:

    You know this made me think of a quote. It’s something like: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  7. Bingner:

    Note that this discussion toke place years before Bing became a search engine.


  8. CappieandRebecca/CaseyFan:

    I was just watching old episodes of Greek and at the end of the episode The great Cappie. Cappie called his ex girlfriends ex boyfriend bing. I was searching for what it meant (actually I wanted to see if my idea was correct) and what I came up with is rebound. The now ex boyfriend was called bing because he was the rebound guy.

    Does it make sense? No clue but that is what the word will always mean to me now


  9. GreekTV101:

    I was wrong but I like my answer better then the one the tv show gave.

  10. Marjorie Bing:

    Bing is a Scottish last name. It means heap. The “bing” is where the coal was stored at the docks.

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