Posted by Smokey Stover on July 06, 2006
In Reply to: What a Brahma posted by Victoria S Dennis on July 05, 2006
: : Does anyone know where the expression "what a Brahma" comes from. I understand that Brahma was a Hindu God. But I would like to know its origins in the English language. Thanks BG
: Did you hear it from a Scots person? There is a Scots word "brammer" meaning generally "a person I approve of" and more often and more specifically "good-looking girl" (as in "Yon Jeannie's a real brammer"). I don't know the etymology.
In the U.S. the phrase "what a Brahma" is not heard, or not by me. And where the phrase is at home it doesn't seem to involved Brahma at all, as Victoria points out.
What we DO have in the U.S. are Brahmins, as mentioned by the OED after first defining the Brahmins (or Brahmans) of India.
"a. A member of the highest or priestly caste among the Hindus...
b. fig. spec. A member of the upper class of Boston, Mass., U.S.A.
...1859 O. W. HOLMES Elsie V. i. Title, The Brahmin caste of New England. 1881 Homes & Haunts of our Elder Poets 155 To be a missionary of Boston culture..must have pleased the anxious thought of this medical Brahmin. 1931 J. T. ADAMS Epic of Amer. viii. 219 The West..was dominating the American outlook, in spite of the smug Boston Brahmins...
c. attrib., ... Brahmin ox (cf. BRAHMINEE a.), a humped variety of the ox...CARPENTER Zool. 269 The Zebu or Brahmin Ox. 1856 Farmer's Mag. Jan. 10 There were also some other crosses..between the Brahmin and our own native races."
"Smug" is the usual adjective applied to the Boston Brahmins, who mostly have addresses in Back Bay or Beacon Hill. "Snobbish" is also heard. You've heard the quatrain,
"Here's to the city of Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Cabots speak only to Lowells,
And the Lowells speak only to God."
I don't know whether the Farmers' Magazine was English or American, but I imagine the former (the U.S. doesn't really have any native races of cow, unless you count the ones from Mexico). Brahman bulls from India, where they belonged to the races of "sacred cow," entered the U.S. in small numbers throughout the last half of the nineteenth century, and their descendants now have a place on many cattle ranches among the Herefords, Aberdeen-Angus, and other breeds of beef cattle. The Brahmans are easily recognized by their hump.