Antedating of "boffin"

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Thu Jun 12 14:32:19 UTC 2014

OED not only "refuses to even speculate about the origin" but goes further: "Etymology:  Origin unknown. Numerous conjectures have been made about the origin of the word but all lack foundation." This seems more dismissive than strictly necessary. Or perhaps less than necessary and sufficient. If the origin is unknown, pray tell, how may one know that all conjectures (those that made it to OED?--whatever they may be) all lack foundation?

Stephen Goranson
From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Laurence Horn
Sent: Thursday, June 12, 2014 9:51 AM

Subject: Re: [ADS-L] Antedating of "boffin"

It might be a bit confusing, given the range of meanings.  OED takes us from sense 2:

2. A person engaged in ‘back-room’ scientific or technical research.The term seems to have been first applied by members of the Royal Air Force to scientists working on radar.

to sense 3:

Brit. colloq. In weakened use: an intellectual, an academic, a clever person; an expert in a particular field; esp. such a person perceived as lacking practical or social skills.

The extended sense seems more like "geek" or "nerd" than "scientist".  And the OED refuses to even speculate about the origin.


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