Bean Counter

Origin of “Bean Counter”

The phrase “bean counter” is mostly used for an accountant but in a disapproving way. It is used for accountants who are very fussy and excessively concerned about a correct statistical record.

Meaning of “Bean Counter”

The phrase “bean counter” might have originated from the United States. It was first printed in a newspaper, Lewiston Evening Journal, in 1907 in its June publication. The following sentence appeared in the print, “The Clerk, seeing himself worsted by numbers… walked over to the bean counter where he again busied himself putting up packages for the evening trade.”

In fact, it earlier came into use on account of the areas where beans were cultivated. People used this for the accountants working for big ranchers. Since then, it has become a popular phrase for such accountants in American and other English speaking countries.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

The Estate Taxed by Roberto Montes

I should have taken the amaranth soap
From the rich prick’s bathroom
Should have mothered the fault
Line in my skull
Fit to burst
The blood brain barrier
Bean counter beans that jump
As if thrilled by the prospect
Of an open palm

The above lines shed light on how the speaker changes his mind within these lines to reach the bean counter and its explanations. He starts from a simple soap but immediately returns to the ethical framework inserted in his mind by his mother about not stealing things. Then he crosses these mentally built barriers to enter the other side where beans jump at the prospect of coming into the hands of a bean counter. The phrase has been used in the same meanings as it has been used earlier.

Example #2

Affairs of the Heart by Ronald Lee Web

No matter what the bean counter psychiatrists say,
With my overpowering passion I just can’t stay away.
Thinking about her on the sea of asphalt freeway,
Helps me dream about someday being on Broadway.
For my starlet another movie that’s a smash hit,
So I had better cool it with her and not overdo it.
Sometimes it is difficult to admit,
If I don’t chill out Lindsey will spilt.

The poet Le Web states that whatever psychiatrists say about his mental state and take away his money, he always thinks of acting in Broadway with his beloved. He thinks that their movie has become a major hit as they chill out with Lindsey, a famous actor. In fact, the speaker wants to become an improvident as he is in love with his beloved. However, psychiatrists warn him about not doing this or that thing. The phrase has been used in the meanings of money minting psychiatrists who only count their money and do not pay attention to the patients and their emotions.

Example #3

I Was Born a Bean Counter by Lisa Tremback

I was born a bean counter during early Sabbath hours,
I had to find the hidden believers, and
Tally, often the callous, self righteous deceivers.
I fell from a dying angel’s floating,
Swirling, coffee toffee curling cloud.
I was seen on NASA and heard on tapes,
Space garbage!  For heaven’s sake!
My mother bowed and sung supplications,
found a babe in her arms during her adulations!
I seemed so lucky!  I just glowed and glowed
With tousled hair, no sorrows, needed nothing to borrow.
Beautiful dawns!  Another tomorrow, another tomorrow…

The speaker has used the phrase in the very first line that she was a born bean counter. Then she continues counting different incidents and events that have happened or not happened on that day and then so on with the passage of time. The use of the phrase in the very first line shows the trivial issues and behavior of the speaker. It includes how she counts things even from the very first day. The use of the phrase syncs with the title.

Example #4

Bean Counter by Mignon Ariel King

The girl would purposely choose the rickety chair,
for that was part of the ceremony. She’d heard the tale
of the little boy who brought back beans for his cow.

Kneeling, she’d shuffle, sort. 1…2…3…. Pinch.
Pick up. This one, Mummy? Sometimes it wasn’t
a rock or grit of any sort, just broken; however,

her mother might say, “Oh, no. We don’t want
that in there at all. What a thorough job!”
Much later, she was a proofreader, then file-

clerk-finder of lost charts at the big university
hospital. Friends became mothers, counselors,
legal personnel. That was not for her though.

She swung in a swiveling chair on a cushion
brought from home, smiled at night, remembering
the occasional unusual beans she’d slipped

into pockets, metal lozenge boxes, and slid into
socks, tucked away where no one else coveted
them. How well she had loved each strange bean.

The poem forgives the accountants and other bean counters to highlight that anybody can be a bean counter if he likes. The girl given in this story becomes a bean counter or accountant occasionally just to recollect thoughts of her childhood to become happy. The storyline shows the positive meanings of the phrase quite contrary to the harsh meanings of the phrase given as the title of the poem.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Why are you behaving like a bean counter?”

Example #2: “Joseph begins counting his money every hour. His friends thought he is really a bean counter.”

Example #3: “Bean countering business does not make a person rich.”

Example #4: “They have proved themselves bean counters in the bean collection season.”

Example #5: “Bean counting is a serious business though people may not like it.”