The phrase brownie points, describing imaginary rewards given to those who do good deeds, has a hotly debated etymology. The first recorded mention of it was in a 1963 entry to the American Speech journal published quarterly by the American Dialect Society, but it was certainly in use for quite a while before then. Some commonly held theories are that the phrase is a reference to the badges awarded to the group of Girl Scouts, that it's named after a railroad superintendent who introduced a system of merits and demerits, or that it's related to brown vouchers or stamps given out by various organizations. While these explanations cannot be discounted, the story that the most etymologists agree with is that it comes from the term brown-noser, which describes people who so flatter others that it's like they have their nose up the other's rear. Usage of the phrase brownie points was popularized in the 1990s and peaked in 2014.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.