The objective of this write up will be to try to establish the value of a Hill of Beans. Despite its unexpected non-success, this Hill of Beans is not intended to be a profit-making venture; in fact, it will most likely become beans of a different color and not worth a red cent.

Have you ever wondered what is the worth of a hill of beans? And just when is a handful of beans not just a handful of beans? Are they like scruples? And if one bean is worthless, would a whole hill of them be even more so? Jack and the Beanstalk found out when he traded the family cow for a few beans and the riches discovered at the top of a full-grown beanstalk.

Beans are a popular farm crop. But beans are used to describe something of very little value in the expression, "not worth a hill of beans." These days, you would be hard pressed to unearth an honest hill of beans. In the era when many households raised their own food, everyone had plenty of beans. A hand full of seeds were covered with a mound of dirt making a small hill. Long rows in the garden included so many hills that no one bothered to count them. In this sense of the phrase a “hill of beans’” it is quite literal. For instance, a book on country living written in 1858 by J J Thomas illustrates how to grow lima beans with a drawing of small mounds along the rows of beans:

    "A strong wire is stretched from the tops of posts placed at a distance from each other; and to this wire two diverging cords from each hill of beans are attached"
I never knew that there was a Biblical Battle for a Hill of Beans; perhaps that’s where the idea sprouted forth upon civilization. David mentions Shammah, one of the men in his list of heroes he had known and served with wrote:
    "And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together in a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentils: and the people fled from the Philistines, but he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the Lord wrought a great victory."
    (2 Samuel 23:11)
Shammah had to draw a line in those lentils; meet him in the bean field and fight because if one doesn’t defend his hill of beans by taking a stand on small things one ends up with mountains out of molehills—or something like that.

The commonplace bean has for at least seven centuries been regarded as the epitome of worthlessness Robert of Gloucester who lived centuries earlier as possibly a monk is credited by language expert Charles Earle Funk as the earliest employer of this term in written form tells how this chronicler of English history described a message from the King of Germany to King John of England, as "altogether not worth a bean."

When something "isn't worth a hill of beans", the implication is that it is insignificant or pretty worthless. The expression is often used informally today. You could say, for example, that a bad idea is "not worth a hill of beans." Similar and synonymous idioms could be ‘not worth a red cent,’ Little Currency; diddly, diddling, diddle and not worth a tinker’s dam. Beans have been so taken for granted in the United States that in a century's worth of saying "not worth a hill of beans" was understood by all to mean not worth much at all.

Hill of beans gained its modern sense sometime around 1860 in form of hyperbole that was in favorable fashionable of the southern vernacular of that era. A hill of beans became a colloquialism to characterize something of trifling value. A 1921 case in point about beans and their lack of value was penned by P.G. Wodehouse in The Indiscretions of Archie,

    "Here have I been kicking because you weren't a real burglar, when it doesn't amount to a hill of beans whether you are or not."
And you must remember this; the cliché’s legendary appearance carried it further to a world-wide international audience in 1942 when at the conclusion of the film Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart says to Ingrid Bergman,
    "Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

Would you believe that there is a real Hill of Beans located in the Midwestern United States. It’s one of a dozen famous but rarely climbed hills. ‘the peak is disgracefully difficult underfoot, initially scaled by German émigré Heinz Runner, whilst a later explorer - novelist and travel writer John Steinbeck - summed up the thoughts of many when he wrote: "Ain't worth climbing. Doesn't amount to much."’

How about some trivia that amounts to more than just a hill of beans?

  • Did you know an acre of coffee trees could produce up to 10,000 pounds of coffee cherries? That amounts to approximately 2,000 pounds of beans after hulling or milling.
  • On the subject of that’s a lot of beans at mach speed! The Jelly Belly Candy Company can produce 1.25 million jellybeans per hour. That's 347 beans per second!
  • And you sure wouldn’t want to spill any of these beans! The world's most expensive one is a coffee bean, at $130 a pound it is called Kopi Luwak. They’re harvested from the droppings of a marsupial that eats only the very best coffee beans. Plantation workers track them and scoop their precious poop.

Ain’t I just full of beans?


World Wide Words:

Not worth a hill of beans:

Steaming Bean: Trivia: -

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