[Ads-l] It=?Windows-1252?Q?=92s_a_bird=3B_It=92s_a_plane=3B_It=92s_?=a boffin

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sat Mar 19 13:11:14 UTC 2022

Among my errors: missing Hugo’s post; it’sàits typo.
I had dismissed the relevance of the use of Boffin by Dickens (in Our Mutual Friend) and P.G. Wodehouse (Joe Boffin, in at least two works), but having a ready-made name might have played a role.
Eric Partridge also speculated about baffle, probably mistakenly.
The 1945 date for “Random Soundings” is confirmed by WorldCat and British Library, so apparently correcting the OED listing it as 1942.
I have ordered a copy of Charles Graves’ 1941 book.
So far, I think OED’s two senses could be merged: experts, hence older than new conscripts. And joint RAF and Navy usage in coast defense contexts.
Watson-Watt (a Scot) dismissed the “back room” characterization, preferring, more or less, a bridging function between science and the military. When he dismissed a “Colonel Boffin” (a fictional name he later invented?) he apparently was dismissing any similarity with the type in Colonel Blimp cartoons.
Stephen Goranson

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Saturday, March 19, 2022 7:08 AM
Subject: Re: It’s a bird; It’s a plane; It’s a boffin

Mark Mandel wrote:
> Make that a "baffining" question.

A 1950 book of slang does claim that "boffin" is partially derived
from "baffle".

Year: 1950 Copyright
Title: Sea Slang of the Twentieth Century: Royal Navy, Merchant Navy,
Yachtsmen, Fishermen, Bargemen, Canalmen, Miscellaneous
Author: Wilfred Granville
Quote Page 40
Publisher: The Philosophical Library, New York
Database: Internet Archive

[Begin excerpt]
boffins. In the Navy, officers over the age of thirty-five. (In the
R.A.F., ‘backroom boys’ or scientists.) The name is partly echoic; cf.
the dialectal boffle for baffle.
[End excerpt]


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