“Browned off”

In my admittedly non-scientific experience, the gossip column of my local newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, is my single best source for NOOBs. One reason, I speculate, is that the writers’ embarrassment at covering such silly stuff prompts them to frantic elegant variation, as if to say, “I don’t really mean this.”

In any case, in today’s paper I read, “One person browned off by the hacks at Sony Pictures is the company’s chief, Amy Pascal.”

“Browned off,” meaning angry or annoyed, originated as British service slang, with the OED’s first citation coming from 1938. “Browned-offedness” is a later, baroque variation.

It has appeared (in a non-British, non-gardening context) only three times in the New York Times, three of them from the great critic John Leonard, who clearly had a fondness for the term. In 1978, he pulled off a nifty play on words, referring to “the pious androgyny of the young, that Norman O. Browned-off polymorphic sullenness of the children of the sixties, sexual differentiation being such a drag.”
I predict that “browned off” will remain permanently On the Radar, mainly because the American lingo is so rich in colorful terms meaning the same thing. The king of them all is a two-word phrase, also ending in “off,” that I’ll leave to your imagination.

16 responses to ““Browned off”

  1. My very favourite phrase. Saying “I’m frightfully” browned off” both implies a much ruder version and also has a touch of the Lord Peter Wimseys about it which can only be a good thing.

    • Do Americans use intensifiers such as ‘awfully’ and ‘frightfully’ ?

      • Rodney Carter

        Not so much…our intensifies are along lines of “totally” or “completely”, as in “I’m totally browned off right now!”

  2. I somehow thought the brown in this reference was related to an, ummm, end product, and I couldn’t see how that related to anger. This Phrase Finder etymology and definition (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/browned-off.html) clarified the source of browning, but it doesn’t support the anger definition. Has the meaning been evolving?

  3. Catherine: I’d suggest anyone using that particular phrase would probably mouth “Aim freight-fullay brined orf”. (Think Prince Charles.)

    BTW Ben…Norman O Brown? Who he?

  4. Also, in BritEng:


    I believe that the AmEng word “pissed” has a direct equivalence to our “pissed-off”; BritEng “pissed”, on the other hand, means drunk.

    • Hacked Off has also been adopted as the name of the campaign by a number of public figures to restrict free speech and/or make the Press more accountable (depending on your point of view). “Hacked off” was no doubt how they felt when some of their indiscretions were exposed to the hoi polloi.

  5. I’ve used “browned off” for a long time. I never realized it had a British origin.

  6. Canadians say ‘browned off” occasionally “pissed off” more often and “pissed” as drunk is common.

  7. ‘Cheesed off’ has, I think, about the same popularity in the UK as ‘browned off’.

  8. I think browned off does mean “annoyed” but not really “angry”. More like annoyed from boredom.

  9. I have never used ‘Browned-Off’, usually ‘hacked-off’ or ‘cheesed-off’. I am from Liverpool so maybe ‘browned-off’ was more southern English.

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