• namby-pamby •
næm-bi-pæm-bi • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (UK) A syrupy, sentimental, insipid or childish person. 2. (US) A weak-kneed, fearful and indecisive person, lacking willpower.
Notes: It should come as no surprise to anyone that many whimsical derivations have devolved naturally from this word. We might expect the adjective namby-pambyish and the noun, namby-pambiness (watch for the shift of Y to I). However, various writers have suggested namby-pambical "like a namby-pamby" and a noun, namby-pambics "the behavior of a namby-pamby".
In Play: Although the meaning of this word is demeaning, the humor in it reduces its bite, allowing it to be used on friends and loved ones: "Ben and Eileen Dover are such namby-pambies they never go to baseball games for fear of being hit by a foul ball." Outside the US, this word can apply to people who are simply mushy and sentimental: "That old namby-pamby loves watching old romantic movies on the classic movie channel."
Word History: Namby-pamby began its life as a disparaging imitation of a childish pronunciation of the first name of Ambrose Philips (1675-1749), author of sentimental poems for and about children. Philips was ridiculed by Henry Carey and Alexander Pope, especially in Carey's satiric poem Namby Pamby, which appeared in 1726. The word is a rhyming compound, a particularly whimsical kind of wordplay that combines a real word with a nonsense word that rhymes with it. We've seen such in collywobbles, flibbertigibbet, fuddy-duddy, and hocus-pocus so far, but dozens of others lounge about the English lexicon.