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This passage is from The Ferryman (jez Butterworth) What "Herberts" means?

MAGENNIS. When I was a kid we used to go out to my grandfather’s place down in Fermanagh there, and help with the harvest. It was good craic. Got us out the smoke. Out in the fresh air. Harvest time’s a fine time of the year, so it is. Pause. Well, I’ll get straight to it. (Beat.) Three days ago, there’s two turf-cutters cutting turf in County Louth, just across the border there, when they come across a body in the bog. (Beat.) Now they’ve read the stories in the press about prehistoric finds, your Stoneyisland Man, your Tollund Man there, two thousand years old, and how the people that find them become famous. They’re hatching all these dreams, TV interviews, prize from the National Museum and whatnot, when one of ’em spots that your man’s wearing a pair of Gola trainers. A Timex wristwatch. Brown corduroys. (Beat.) So they rummage through his pockets and they find his car keys. His last pay packet from December 1971. Some Polos. A betting slip signed on the back by Georgie Best. A picture of his wee’un. (Beat.) So your two Herberts there call the Garda, and they run a quick check of your man’s dental records, and they come up with a name.

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  • Pretty sure it's slang as my Dad used to use. More info here – JMB Jun 13 '20 at 14:07
  • I've never heard it without a (usually derogatory) qualifier, typically spotty herbert. Looking in the GloWbE corpus for "(adjective) Herberts" gives me just 11 hits - 10 GB and 1 Irish (I've removed one which referred to a family called Herbert). The adjectives are young, thick, creative, little, fashionable, spotty, and ordinary, . Only "creative" is appreciative ("fashionable" is not complimentary in the context). – Colin Fine Jun 13 '20 at 17:07
  • I don't know if this is a set text for some course, but you've got yourself a very hard play to understand word by word. Very few native speakers of English will know all the 1980s Irish slang that this book uses. Please don't try to understand every word, that's impossible. Instead try to enjoy it as a whole. And please don't use this as a model of how English should be spoken. Part of the experience is being in a foreign culture where you don't know all the words. – James K Jun 13 '20 at 20:32
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Herbert - An undistinguished or foolish man or youth.

I think it's an exclusively British usage. Basically, it's just a dismissive / derogatory reference to (unknown, unnamed) people. But unlike near-equivalent terms such as Wally, [wise] guy, it very rarely occurs in the singular.

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  • "British" but this speaker is apparently Irish. – James K Jun 13 '20 at 20:14
  • Well, I did say British, and "The British Isles" includes even Southern Ireland! In any case, the author here, Jeremy "Jez" Butterworth (born March 1969) is an English playwright, screenwriter, and film director. These days, lots of writers just sprinkle a few craics in their text and call it "dialectally authentic Irish". – FumbleFingers Jun 14 '20 at 11:00
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Yes I agree. Calling someone a daft Herbert is colloquial in the North of England. Just implies a dismissive attitude to a person or persons. Those daft Herberts who drive without seatbelts are putting their lives at risk. I haven't seen it used much without an accompanying adjective.

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