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Womble, n.

Forms:  also with lower-case initial.(Show Less)
Frequency (in current use): 
Origin: Formed within English, by clipping or shortening. Etymon: proper name Wombledon.
Etymology: Shortened < Wombledon Common, representing a child's pronunciation of Wimbledon Common   (see Wimbledon n.).
Elisabeth Beresford explains the name as follows:
2007   Times (Nexis) 11 Aug. 8   My daughter Kate came up to me and said, ‘Ma, isn't it great on Wombledon Common’ and I thought, that's it, that's where the Wombles come from.
Chiefly British.

 1. A fictional animal inhabiting Wimbledon Common (see quot. 1974). Also: a toy representing such a creature.The Wombles were characters in a series of books by Elisabeth Beresford, the first of which was The Wombles (1968); they were popularized by a British television series of the same name (1973–5).

1968   E. Beresford Wombles ii. 27   No Womble is what you might call thin, but Orinoco was fatter than most.
1974   E. Beresford Wombles (new ed.) (dust-jacket)   The Wombles are a bit like teddy bears to look at but they have real claws and live underneath Wimbledon Common and devote their lives to ‘tidying up’ all the things those untidy Human Beings leave behind.
1975   Sunday Express 15 June 6/3   In addition to the Wombles pop group and the TV series, there are Womble jigsaws, Womble dolls, Womble T-shirts, Womble pillow cases.
1977   Lancashire Life Dec. 77/2   Now she had locked herself in the ladies' with five rubber frogs and a selection of plastic Wombles and was refusing to come out.
1984   Times 20 June 28/5   Wimbledon is known mainly as a home for the wombles and for tennis.
2001   B. Broady In this Block there lives Slag 122   ‘Has anyone ever told you that you walk like a womble?’ she asked, in an execrable Irish accent.

1968—2001(Hide quotations)


 2. figurative. A person likened to a Womble, esp. in cleaning up outdoor areas.

1974   Times 12 Mar. 26/1 (advt.)    Womble Wanted! Young energetic and enthusiastic freelance sales telephonist required, to work for small but friendly advertising business situated near Wimbledon Common.
1978   Times 26 Aug. 3 (caption)    Members of the Outset youth service group felling and clearing dead trees on Wimbledon Common. These ‘Wombles’ have also assisted in pond clearing.
1982   Buses Sept. 393/2   The customers being predominantly senior citizens or ‘wombles’ in the London Transport vernacular.
1995   Northern Echo (Nexis) 11 Feb.   A country lane in Cleveland was down in the dumps until the Wombles decided enough was enough.
2005   A. Masters Stuart xi. 113   Then the prisoners on gardening duty (known as ‘Wombles’) clean up the mess and get it back to the cells.

1974—2005(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, June 2011).