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What Are Brownie Points?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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"Brownie points" is a term that is often used to identify favor that is earned as the result of taking certain actions that others find appealing or helpful. There are several possible origins for this particular idiomatic expression, with some focused on incentives once offered to shoppers and others focused on the internal workings of organizations for young girls. Over time, brownie points have come to mean any type of favor that is garnered as the result of doing something that another person finds appealing.

One of the more popular origins claimed for brownie points has to do with trading stamps. After World War II, many retailers began to offer stamps that could be collected and redeemed for merchandise once enough of the stamps had been accumulated. In some nations, those stamps were brown in color, while others were green or yellow. Each stamp represented a certain number of points that in turn were correlated with currency, effectively meaning that having a sufficient number of stamps was like having enough currency to buy certain products.

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A different origin for the term brownie points is associated with the efforts of Dr. Gregory G. Brown to develop a functioning system of bestowing merits and demerits on railroad workers during the latter part of the 19th century. Within a few years, the workers began to refer to the merits accumulated as brownie points. Over time, the term came to be a popular means of referring to any type of reward that is bestowed for desirable behavior.

There is even one purported origin for brownie points that has to do with the Girls Scouts. Within that organization, it was one common to award merit badges for mastering certain skills or performing certain good deeds. The badges were considered points that provided some insight into the position of the member within the Brownie Girl Scouts, leading to the badges as being outward signs of the accumulation of brownie points.

Whatever the true origin of the term, "brownie points" has come to mean earning favor in the eyes of another. Romantic partners earn points when doing something that pleases their partners. Employees also receive this type of recognition when performing exemplary work for employers. Even children may earn points with parents for getting homework done without prodding, cleaning their rooms, and in general following household rules. Typically, the accumulation of these points leads to receiving something that is considered desirable, such as a special treat, a pay raise, or the right to use the family car for a date.

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