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Origin unknown; a number of possible etymologies have been suggested,[1] but no conclusive evidence exists.[2]



boffin (plural boffins)

  1. (Australia, Britain, informal) An engineer or scientist, especially one engaged in technological or military research. [from 1930s]
    Synonym: backroom boy
    • [1942 February 3, Henry T[homas] Tizard, “Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. Luncheon.”, in Journal of the Institute of Petroleum[2], volume 28, number 219, London: The Institute of Petroleum, OCLC 457014166, archived from the original on 30 September 2018, page 58:
      In fact, a fighting friend of mine said that he could hardly walk in any direction in this war without tumbling over a scientist who had got in the way. In the Royal Air Force, where the concentration of scientists is perhaps greatest, they have a pet name for them. They call them “Boffins.” Why, I do not know. I said to a young friend of mine in the Air Force, “Why do you call scientists ‘Boffins’?” He said, “I don’t know. What else would you call them?”]
    • 1960 April, G. F. Fiennes, “Unpunctuality - the cause and the cure”, in Trains Illustrated, page 244:
      With a rare and beautiful ease one can now ring up a boffin, as I did the other day, and say: "As a price for not opposing our Parliamentary Powers for a new marshalling yard, the Council at X demands that the bridge over X Lane shall have 16 ft. 6 in. headroom. This means steepening our gradient from 1 in 70 to 1 in 65 for half a mile on a 20-chain curve. What difference will this make to the loads of Type "2", "3" and "4" diesels please?". Back comes the answer.
    • 1991, R[obert] Hanbury Brown, “Radar and the Battle at Night”, in Boffin: A Personal Story of the Early Days of Radar, Radio Astronomy and Quantum Optics, New York, N.Y.; Abingdon, Oxon.: Taylor & Francis Group, →ISBN, page 57:
      An essential difference between a boffin and a back room boy, as [Robert] Watson-Watts points out, is that the boffin does not stay in the back room but emerges to poke his nose into other peoples[’] business. It is quite wrong to use the word ‘boffin’ simply to describe a scientist or a technician; a boffin is essentially a middleman, a bridge between two worlds, []
    • 2004 September, Nicole Dyer, “Rebirth of the Boffin”, in Mark Jannot, editor, Popular Science, volume 265, number 3, New York, N.Y.: Time4 Media, ISSN 0161-7370, OCLC 818923164, page 160, columns 2–3:
      He devoted six years to building the probe and, breaking with boffin tradition, transformed himself into an extroverted fundraiser to sell it to a public and government largely indifferent to space exploration. [] In fact, he's still busily rallying support for Beagle 2’s successor. Will he succeed? Can a lone boffin maintain a nation’s appreciation for exploration? [Colin] Pillinger could single-handedly determine whether the boffin remains a modest backroom boy or claims a lasting spot in the limelight.
  2. (Australia, Britain, informal, by extension) A person with specialized knowledge or skills, especially one who is socially awkward; (in a weaker sense) an intellectual; a smart person.
    Synonyms: brain, brainiac, egghead; see also Thesaurus:intelligent person
    • 1995, John Abraham, “Organizational Differentiation and Polarization: Setting, Social Class and Pupil Values”, in Divide and School: Gender and Class Dynamics in Comprehensive Education, London; Bristol, Pa.: The Falmer Press, Taylor & Francis, →ISBN, page 55:
      — Well, last year I used to have a friend Charley [Charley was in the top sets for English, mathematics and French] but this year he doesn't speak to me any more and every time I see him he's hanging around with boffins like. When I go round to his house, now and again, he's always got his 'O' level and 'A' level books open and he's always concentrating on his work. Hanging around with boffins. / — What are boffins? / — People who work. Stay in all the time. Never go out, go down the town or nothin. And always get good letters home and pats on the back by teachers.
    • 1995, Bob Turnbull, “Corporate Video”, in Tom Jeffrey, editor, Film Business: A Handbook for Film Producers, 2nd edition, North Ryde, N.S.W.: AFTRS Publications, published 1998, →ISBN, page 35:
      The opportunities for producers in the interactive multimedia environment are boundless. The boffins writing software programs for interactive multimedia will not be the producers of corporate communications. They need today's producers to bring their communication skills to the interactive domain, []

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  1. ^ See, for example, William Safire (7 April 1985), “On language: Say ‘uncle’ – and make my day”, in The New York Times[1], archived from the original on 28 November 2017.
  2. ^ boffin, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1972; “boffin”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.

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