I’m sure I’ve read the word before, but I fell in love with it recently when I heard David Tennant’s character utter it on the BBC mystery “Broadchurch.”*
(What? You haven’t watched “Broadchurch?” Stop reading and put it in your Netflix queue or, if you have access to BBC America, see if you can get the first seven episodes on demand and set the DVR. Right now. I’ll wait.)
Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Numpty. Or numpties, in the case of “Broadchurch.” Tennant’s character, detective Alec Hardy, suggests assigning some numpties to a mind-numbing chore that might not yield results.**
My husband shot me a confused look as we watched. “Bozos,” I said, helpfully. “I think it’s a Scottish thing.”
Further investigation (thank you, Mr. Google) showed that “numpty” is indeed Scottish, and it means “idiot or fool.”
I’m prone to these sorts of infatuations. Shortly after moving to Texas, I fell for the phrase “fixin’ to.” Later, I became enamored of “might could” and its cousin “used to could.”
But I fear my thing for numpty — like many of my linguistic crushes — will go nowhere. I have a special weakness for words and expressions not widely used in the U.S., and I can’t really deploy them without confusing people or seeming pretentious. (Or looking like a numpty. Ha! See how I did that?) The one exception is arse, because that passes for an attempt to avoid something more crude.
Oh, I suppose I can still use it around the house. “I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning. I’m such a numpty!”
Or I can mutter darkly to myself when another driver cuts me off, “What are you doing, you numpty! You’re fixin’ to get us both killed!”
* Here’s a link to an NPR interview with David Tennant about “Broadchurch.” Sadly, he doesn’t call anyone a numpty.
** Spoiler alert: The numpties screw it up.
- Identity is out in paperback!
- Thank you, Alice Munro