Friday, May 14, 2010

Save The Herbert

Smiling Herbert, on the left

He’s a bit of a herbert,” we used to say of a certain type of young male back in the 80s. It’s hard to qualify exactly what we meant, but perhaps the best way to sum him up was ‘good-natured moron’. Someone not too bright, but harmless. You’d see one in every gang of skinheads. The band of knuckle-walkers would be trying to look all hard and terrifying, and right in their midst, spoiling everything, would be the grinning idiot. He was only in it for the larf, and if all his mates had been mods or stamp collectors or members of the Egerton Forstal Croquet Club, that’s what he’d have been doing too.

It’s been years since I spotted a herbert, but to my delight I crossed paths with one yesterday afternoon. I was waiting to sneak out of the back streets and in to the usual depressing stream of commuter cars on Connecticut Avenue. A battered white non-brand vehicle was toiling along the inside lane, coming from my left, and there in the open window on the passenger side, was a young herbert. He was staring me in the eye, and then he raised his finger to me, for no apparent reason than perhaps an immediate, instinctive dislike of graying suburbanites looking to merge with traffic. I stared back at him. His face began to betray some uncertainty. “Why am I showing this bloke the finger?” could have been the thought process, if ‘thought process’ was a possibility beneath the close-shaven head bone. His hard stare began to crack, and then it broke into a mindless grin. In that second the inner herbert was unmasked.

Sadly he and his chauffeur were subsumed by the Beltway traffic before I could catch him up, flag him down, and then swap details so that we could maybe meet up and talk about the dying art of herberticism. Still, I’d long since assumed that herberts were extinct, like sincerity and the ivory-billed woodpecker. To see a face bearing a cheerfully shit-eating smirk of vacuity completely made my day.


No Good Boyo said...

Their natural habitat in Britain is standing behind TV reporters covering tragic events, or failing to become Northern suicide bombers.

Gorilla Bananas said...

The term "Herbert" originated in an episode of Star Trek called 'Way to Eden'. A party of Space hippies chanted "Herbert" at Kirk for trying to discipline them. The English appropriated the term for their own purposes in the 1970s. You use it to mean "goof", but Nicholas van Hoogstraten uses it to mean "oik".

The group refuses to cooperate with Kirk, calling him "Herbert", an insulting reference to a minor official of the same name, notorious for his "rigid and limited patterns of thought".

AMD said...

I've never thought of watching any Star trek episide, but I think I have to see that one.

Hip hop's equivalent of the herbert would the nightgoggles-wearing goons in a rap posse.

Ian Plenderleith said...

One day I will return to England and open a drinking establishment called The Happy Herbert. Genuine herberts will receive a 15% discount off their first dozen beers.

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