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Bonce

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.

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7 Comments
  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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