[Ads-l] It=?UTF-8?Q?=E2=80=99s_a_bird=3B_It=E2=80=99s_a_plane=3B_It=E2=80=99s_?=a boffin

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 19 00:43:22 UTC 2022

There was an ADS discussion thread back in 2014.  Hugo found pertinent
evidence dated February 1942.

Here is the Puffin-Baffin explanation for Boffin in August 1945.

Date: August 15, 1945
Newspaper: Daily Herald
Newspaper Location: London, England
Article: How Boffins Won Battles with Echoes
Author: Charles Bray
Quote Page 2, Column 3 and 4
Database: British Newspaper Archive

[Begin excerpt - double check for typos]
CHARLES BRAY “Daily Herald” Air Correspondent, who watched Radar’s
secret triumphs in many battles, tells the story today.

He also has something to explain:

“Once upon a time a Puffin, a strange and peculiar bird, was crossed
with a Baffin, an obsolete Fleet Air Arm aircraft of equally peculiar
habits; and the result, according to Service fantasy, was a ‘Boffin.’

“This was a creature of intensive energy, strange appearance and
unbelievable inventive capacity, whose eggs, as fast as you pushed
them away from you, rolled back again.

“That, then, is the origin of the nickname ‘Boffin,’ given to the
civilian scientists who perfected Radar.”
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt - double check for typos]
This is “Boffins’ Day,” because for the first time it is permissible
to tell something of the war saga of the “Backroom Boys,” known
throughout the Services of the United Nations as “Boffins.”

It is a dramatic and romantic story of a battle of wits, brains and
inventive genius between the scientists of the United Nations and
those of the enemy, and the United Nations team won hands down.

They were not impressive to look at, these Boffins who haunted Army,
Navy and RAF stations in usually rather shabby civilian clothes, and
were ever ready to argue on almost any subject except their own work.

But generals, air marshals and admirals treated them with respect, for
only the very senior officers knew much of their activities.

Theirs was the best-kept secret of the war. They were conducting what
has been aptly described as the very “heart” of  the United Nations
war effort.

Their greatest achievement of many was the discovery, development and
perfection of Radar, radiolocation ...
[End excerpt]


On Fri, Mar 18, 2022 at 11:59 AM Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu> wrote:
> [Puffin; Baffin, plane discontinued in 1941;…]
> OED has boffin n. as “elderly Naval officer” from 1941 [though it’s 1942 cite I find from 1945 and maybe 1943, author elsewhere given as Edward Horace Crebbin, Royal Navy] and “person engaged in…technical research” from 1945 [though both senses come from air and sea coastal protection and may not be quite distinct?]
> M-W has the latter sense from 1942
> Green’s Slang adds “[ety. unknown, although according to Robert Watson-Watt (1892–1973), the inventor of radar, the term ‘has something to do with an obsolete type of aircraft called the Baffin, something to do with that odd bird, the Puffin’ (Three Steps to Victory, 1957)]”
> Wikipedia has some useful links.
> Of course, Boffin is a family name and was used also by Dickens and P. G. Wodehouse, though without evident relevance here.
> WP cites: Radar at Sea (1993) 86,  a text it dates as Ap. 1, 1941:
> [We] played cards waiting for the weather to deteriorate. At last it did & both ‘boffins’ were so sick that they could only just make it to the set. … [They] turned over to me all the drawings of circuits and layout etc., & wished me luck … They couldn’t get away quick enough! [Sub-Lieutenant Orton, RNVR].
> Watson-Watt [aka “archboffin”] wrote the above accounting also earlier, in 1953:
> https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=4051258
> Discover Dec. 1946 [GB]:  PAGE 358 They are brilliant , cranky and downright bigoted ; right at the beginning they are christened ' Boffins ' - a term derived by crossing ' Puffin ' ( a bird with a mournful cry ) with ' Baffin ' ( an obsolete type of R.A.F aircraft )
> RAF officer (various ranks) George Philip Chamberlain, assigned to coast protection in early WW II, is sometimes proposed as the coiner. In any case, he was apparently an early adopter.
> A self-designation has also been claimed.
> Stephen Goranson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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