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June 18, 2017

I was thinking today about the slang word bonce, meaning head. Bonce. I like that word. There is something very comical about it. I decided to look it up in my massive great Oxford English Dictionary and there I discovered that a bonce was originally a type of large marble; the word is first recorded in the 19th century but nobody knows its origin. The OED cites two examples of its use as a slang term for ‘head’: in 1909, somebody called R. Ware wrote in Passing English, “Look out, or I’ll fetch you a whack across the bonce”; and in 1962, Len Deighton wrote in The Ipcress File, “This threat is going to be forever hanging over your bonce like Damocles’ chopper”.

The word has a dated air now; but so do all the slang words for head that I remember from my youth. Does anyone still say nut, napper, dome, swede or loaf?

I don’t know what occasioned these thoughts. They just floated into my bonce.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

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  1. Simon Carter!!!! permalink

    Like loaf (of bread) bonce is probably from rhyming slang but it’s original root, sconce, has disappeared.

    • Well, according to the OED it was a type of marble; do you mean that the marble got its name as rhyming slang for ‘sconce’?

  2. Simon Carter!!!! permalink

    No, sconce was a slang term for the head; Shakespeare used it in Hamlet.

  3. Oh, yes, you’re right. I’ve just looked it up: Hamlet says, in the graveyard scene in Act V, “Why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel…?” So now we have an alternative etymology! I think you should write to the OED about this.

  4. Simon Carter permalink

    I think I read it many years ago in the glossary to The Long and the Short and the Tall but can’t find it to check.
    A favourite word for the head is from P.G.Wodehouse, “I should have risen and struck them on the mazzard”.
    Another was David Lloyd commentating on a batsman who’d just been hit by a bouncer, “Right on the Nodder”.

    • Oh yes, I actually had intended to mention ‘mazzard’ (which nobody except PGW used, as far as I am aware), but I forgot. Love ‘nodder’!

  5. I may have a lead in this via German and Japanese, having also drawn a blank.
    In German slang the noun Bonze refers to a swaggering, ostentatious leading (ie head) figure. I first came across it in the film The Lives of Others, in a reference about SED party bosses. In turn this comes slightly distorted form from a Japanese term for a buddhist priest. There is also a Japanese term, related or not, to a large conical temple bell. I could see a semantic link from the bell or leading ? priest to a large, maybe largest marble,and from that to a head
    Yes, I recall nut, but especially from my father, loaf, as in ” Use your loaf”. Any number of Hancock
    and Carry-On episodes would have contained a bonce reference.

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