Brownie Points

Meaning of “Brownie Points”

The phrase “Brownie points” means to win kudos for some achievement, or win national recognition for some achievement, or performance. It is a mark of achievement for a creditable work. This phrase is also used as an informal expression holding the same meaning.

Origin of “Brownie Points”

The phrase “Brownie points” is stated to have occurred in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang by J. E. Lighter published in 1940. There it goes thus: “Blew his stack. Brownie points.”

The phrase might have also come from the word brownies which is used for Girl Guide or Girl Scouts. The Los Angeles Times tried to define the phrase in the year 1951 through an article called Brownie Points— A New Measure of Husband by Marvin Miles.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Riff, Raffles: Days in the Life of a Pattaya Hotel Owner by Kevin Meacher

I was pleased my efforts of recent weeks had been rewarded with a few brownie points from Mrs. Boss and knew these to be awarded sparingly. In case you are not familiar with the system, brownie points are opposite to black marks. I had hoped I would be able to accrue sufficient brownie points, bank them and have them available to trade against black marks should the need arise. It, however, appears that I got the entire marital black marks and brownie points system completely wrong.

This short passage sheds light on the behavior of the protagonist, who, having lived with Mrs. Boss, expects that she should reward him for his good behavior. Here he is announcing that finally, he has won some brownie points from her. Had he not been successful or not familiar with the system, he would have won some black marks, too. Therefore, the meaning of the phrase becomes clear, as first, it shows some commendation, then has been put in contrast to the black marks, and finally, it has been clarified.

Example #2

Dirty Laundry: Aired out the Legal Way by Rhonda Gate

Don’t think that I didn’t notice that you were fifteen minutes late.”

Unbelievable, Tracy, I mean, William is in court…I know you are trying to bet brownie points and all, but damn secretary prove it. You weren’t at your desk,” Kim said.

“Brownie points ha…I like that from a liar and a time thief. Don’t think for a minute that I’m not documenting this,” Tracy said mockingly.

This passage shows that Tracy and Kim are engaged in a conversation. Kim is telling Tracy that he was not at his desk and that the secretary has proved it. In fact, he means that he is not telling a lie and wants to win some brownie points. Here brownie points mean the same thing that he does not want to win the admiration of others. However, Tracy has used irony when repeating the same with the exclamation mark of “ha.”

Example #3

Tours of Duty: Vietnam War Stories by Michael Lee Lanning

By all accounts, the party was quite a production. It was well planned by our colonel in his attempt to gain brownie points for a potential future assignment. He had one of each type of the group’s aircraft flown in and parked for the ceremony. There were color guards, honor guards, banners, little decorated cocktails for all to enjoy … and the crowning touch – a real live water buffalo borrowed from a local village chief by the headquarters support company commanding officer. Everyone was impressed.

This excerpt shows how the American soldiers found the situation worsening in Vietnam during the war. Though there were guards everywhere, it was only due to the effort of the company commander, the colonel, that the party was a success.  He wanted to impress his seniors and win some brownie points. The phrase has been used in its literal sense.

Example #4

Pitch Black by Richard Brentnall

But there’s nothing like a victory in some war to get yourself brownie points, get yourself looked at in a new light, something to rally everybody behind you in all the rest of it, is there? That’s all I reckon it was about anyway, all of it avoidable in the first place, just brownie points for the both of them, Pinocchio and Gualtieri, except the General dropped a bollock.

This passage shows the use of the phrase in the very first line. The passage tells that Pinocchio and Gualtieri have to win some brownie points in the war to be able to stand up in the future. The phrase has been used twice in the passage to show its literal meanings of commendation or desire to win some commendation.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Sergeant Green works too hard, maybe he is always trying to win some brownie points from his senior officers.”

Example #2: “Nick Jones is acting like his brother to win some brownie points from his dad and get a new bike for his birthday.”

Example #3: “Teachers decided to give stars as brownie points to encourage children and help them learn good behavior.”

Example #4: “Parents are usually strict but grandparents always keep us happy with brownie points and lots of sweets.”

Example #5: “Naureen never cared about brownie points she just wanted to study in the best university and make her parents proud.”