Not a bird. Not necessarily something so good as to be called “boffo.” Not a buffoon per se. Certainly not a big hairstyle or an overgrown cupcake. Not a marine mammal… well, perhaps: the first known use, in 1941, was for an “older” (over 32) naval officer. Then it came to be used for a person engaged in “back-room” scientific research, for example on radar. Now it refers to an egghead, a nerd, a geek, a wonk – not a mere buff or (as in golfing) duffer, but a guy who knows how to fix the world but still doesn’t get invited to parties. Does the word somehow have the sound of a propeller spinning on a beanie? The b imparts a rosy-cheekedness quite lacking in coffin. There is a definite effect from the off in, but what is it? Perhaps we can’t know. There is much that boffins know that is forever opaque to the world at large. It may be that out there is some boffin who even knows with some certainty where the word boffin comes from. If so, he ought to tell the rest of us. The best we can guess is that it’s somehow an eponym; Boffin is a Welsh surname.
Songs of Love and Grammar
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