Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Dec 21 18:52:55 UTC 2004

On Tue, 21 Dec 2004 08:41:04 -0800, Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET> wrote:

>> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
>> Of Michael Quinion
>> A subscriber asks about "bennies", the slang term for summer visitors
>> along the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey. Does anyone have any firm
>> knowledge of where it comes from? I have assumed that two supposed
>> origins in initialisms are spurious.
>There were three different origin tales that were common during my youth on
>the Jersey Shore. Which, if any, is correct, I have no idea. The term got
>its start decades before I was born and, while occasionally attested to in
>newspapers, was not the type of term that left a clear trail of published
>citations. The term is mildly derogatory.
>The first is that it is simply after the name. Parts of the Jersey Shore
>were frequented by Jewish visitors from North Jersey and "Bennie" was a
>common name.
>The second is that the summer visitors came for the "beneficial rays" of
>the sun.

This version has been given a couple of times in the New York Times, but
the benefits are often described as mutual: "the visitors benefit from sun
and surf and the residents benefit from the money that is spent" (NYT, Feb
21, 1993); or: "they are at once beneficial to the area's economy and
benefit from the area's invaluable natural resource - the ocean" (NYT, Sep
3, 1990).

>The third is that "Bennie's" was a shoe store in North Jersey. A certain
>class of day visitors (as opposed to those who rented a place for a week)
>would come carrying their  lunches in shoe boxes marked thusly.

This is also the purported origin for the similarly derogatory term
"shoobies" (< "shoeboxers"?).

Evan Morris <> discusses
"shoobies" and also mentions the theory that "benny" derives from "a
beach-umbrella vendor named Benny who emblazoned his rental umbrellas with
his name, making tourists on the beach highly visible."

>I haven't heard the initialisms explanations. Could you elaborate?

Michael Quinion says in a reply that "benny" is said to stand for "Bergen,
Essex and New York" or a "BNY" luggage tag for a railway line. Here are
other acronymic explanations I've seen:

* Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, New York (NYT, June 11, 2004 [1])
* the Bayonne-Elizabeth-Newark triangle (Wash Post, Apr 20, 1999)
* Bergen, Essex, Newark and New York (AP quoting historian Scott
Wieczorek, Jul. 17, 2004 [2])
* Bayonne, Edison, Newark, New York (historian Scott D. Peters [3])
* Baltimore, Edison, Newark, New York (reported by Evan Morris [4])
* "BEN E" was the luggage tag for eastbound trains from Bensonhurst (AP
quoting historian Linda Long, Jul. 17, 2004 [2])
* "BNENY" was the luggage tag for "Bayonne, Newark, Elizabeth and New
York" (Asbury Park Press, May 27, 2002 [5])
* My favorite acronymic explanation: "Be Extra Nasty to New Yorkers"
(reported by Evan Morris [4])


-- Ben (not Benny) Zimmer

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