Bean counter

Bean counter is an idiom that was first used in English in the 1970s. We will examine the meaning of the expression bean counter, its etymology, and some examples of its use in sentences.

A bean counter is someone who concentrates solely on accounting, inventory, profit and numbers at the expense of other aspects of business and of living. A bean counter is usually an accountant or someone who focuses on figures, statistics and spreadsheets, rather than the bigger picture. While the term bean counter may be used to simply refer to an accountant, it is usually an expression that is used derisively to mean that the person is obsessed with trivial details. There are many fanciful stories as to the origin of the idiom bean counter, but the most plausible is that it is a translation of a German idiom. The German word Erbsenzähler was used as early at the 1660s, and translates as “pea counter”. Erbsenzähler is a term for a nitpicker. The plural of bean counter is bean counters.


Examples

Cisco, which built its empire on physical hardware, acknowledges that businesses are splashing more money on public cloud services: bean counter IDC has predicted that spending on cloud IT infrastructure will reach $82.9bn in 2022 – by which point it will account for 56 per cent of all IT infrastructure spend. (The Register)

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)

Thus sayeth the Lord High Richard Carranza, the chief racial bean counter at the world’s largest failure factory, the New York City Department of Education. (The New York Post)