What Are "Bits and Bobs"?

A. Leverkuhn

The idiom “bits and bobs” in the English language is a general term for an eclectic mix of items. The phrase is just one option for describing a jumble of objects. Many more synonymous words and phrases apply to this kind of mix of items.

An idiom is a turn of phrase that doesn't make sense when literally translated.
An idiom is a turn of phrase that doesn't make sense when literally translated.

Many who are familiar with the use of the colorful phrase in English will agree that the phrase is used more in the U.K. than in some other English speaking societies like the United States. Americans tend to use different phrases for this idea, one of the most popular being “odds and ends.” Both “odds and ends” and “bits and bobs” can refer to a wide range of collections of items.

Other ways to express the same idea as “bits and bobs” are single words. Speakers or writers can refer to a “hodgepodge,” an “olio” or a “salmagundi.” They can also use words like “mélange,” a word of French origin, or “mishmash.”

One explanation for the more common use of “bits and bobs” in U.K. nations is that some language observers have associated the phrase with types of coin money used in the U.K., where a small coin can be referred to as a “bit” and some refer to larger shilling coins as “bobs.” Here, it would seem that the phrase developed gradually from a word for a mixed bag of coins to a much more abstract way to describe a collection of items.

The phrase “bits and bobs” is often used for sets of items that are not the same. For instance, a speaker might refer to items left behind in a rambling mansion as “bits and bobs.” This can mean a collection of anything, from the smallest items like thumbtacks and rubber bands left in a drawer, to bulky, complex or valuable items, from a home gym set to a Grecian sculpture or an armoire. In other cases, the phrase is delimited by a context, for example, where the speaker may refer to a drawer as full of “bits and bobs.” In addition, someone could say that “bits and bobs” went into a recipe, where the result could be called a “hash.”

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