Bean Counter – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Can the term bean counter only describe accountants, or can it be used to talk about anyone related to numbers? Good question! I’ll explain the true meaning and origin of the term bean counter and show you some great sentence examples, too.

What Is a Bean Counter?

Bean Counter Idiom Origin Meaning

A bean counter is an idiom we use in jest to describe someone who works closely with numbers, like an accountant. They are probably responsible for tracking financial transactions, managing budgets, and ensuring everything add up correctly.

Also, bean counters are usually stereotyped as being boring, methodical, and overly focused on the bottom line, like a stuffy office worker.

Is Bean Counter Offensive?

The term bean counter is not supposed to be offensive. However, I can see how you could use it in a derogatory way to poke fun at someone who needs to lighten up and stop worrying about money or to belittle someone who is boring and works with numbers.

But I know a few accountants who have embraced the term as a badge of honor and even refer to themselves as bean counters.

Origin of the Term Bean Counter

bean counter ngram

It actually comes from the German word “Erbsenzähler” and became popular in the 1600s. Erbsen means beans, and zähler means counter, but it sometimes translates to nitpicker, too. In 1668, Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen used the term in print in “Simplicissimus.”

Why Are Accountants Called Bean Counters?

Back then, accountants apparently used beans and beads on an abacus to keep track of certain financial transactions. Thus, coining the phrase bean counter.

Other Ways to Say Bean Counter

  • Number cruncher
  • Financial guru
  • Money maestro
  • Accountant
  • Numbers nerd
  • Poindexter
  • Bean head
  • Math whiz
  • Fussy accountant
  • Balance sheet wizard

Examples of Bean Counter in a Sentence

  • I had to run my budget proposal for that new business idea by the corporate bean counters in accounting before I could present it to the board.
  • Don’t be such a bean counter; we need to invest in Netflix before it’s too late and shares become too expensive.
  • As a bean counter myself, I can confidently say that you can’t afford to upgrade your equipment during this quarter.
  • I wanted my daughter to become a doctor, but she’s going to school to become a bean counter.
  • Did you know that they used real beans to make abacus back in the day? I guess that’s why they’re called bean counters.
  • I really want to buy that bookstore that’s closing down, so I whipped up a business plan and a copy of my finances to drop off at the family bean counter.

Equally striking is Green’s sense of a possible timeline for getting this done – again, coming from someone with the caution of a bean counter. (The Saint Louis American)

It’s Bean a Slice

Who doesn’t love a good bean-related pun? Well, some people might not, so just be careful who you call a bean counter. It’s mostly a term we use in a joking way, and it basically means someone good with math or works as an accountant.