During the 18th century, Ambrose Philips was a fellow of St Johns College, Cambridge, and in addition gained some recognition as a poet. But his poetic style and political affiliations (he was a Whig) incurred the wrath of the musician and poet Henry Carey (who wrote ‘Sally in our Alley’ and was possibly the first person to sing ‘God Save the King’).
Carey thought Philips’ poetic style was half-witted. So he set out in 1725 to create a poem that would satirise it with an ingenious series of rhyming couplets – a stinging series of childish epigrams. Carey came up with namby-pamby as a word-play on the name Ambrose Philips, and entitled his poem ‘Namby Pamby -A Panegyric on the New Versification’.
All ye poets of the age,
All ye witlings of the stage …
Namby-Pamby is your guide,
Albion’s joy, Hibernia’s pride.
Rhimy-pim’d on Missy Miss
From the navel to the knee;
That her father’s gracy grace
Might give him a placy place.
The poem was so successful, that poor old Philips then became widely known as Namby Pamby, and Alexander Pope used the term in his satiric epic The Dunciad
“Beneath his reign, shall … Namby Pamby be prefer’d for Wit!”……
Since then the term has been used to label anything perceived as childish, ineffectual or insipid.