Antedating of "boffin"

Dan Goncharoff thegonch at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 12 14:45:11 UTC 2014

Are you asking whether the whole nine yards of conjectures lack a concrete


On Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 10:32 AM, Stephen Goranson <goranson at>

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Antedating of "boffin"
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> 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
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> 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.
> LH
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