• boffin •
bah-fin • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: (British slang) A scientific or technical specialist, such as a computer boffin.
Notes: Today's word is a near equivalent to nerd or egghead. It is used as a slang word for the most part in Britain and Australia. It is a lexical orphan with no derivational relatives. A few have tried boffineer and boffinry to no obvious avail.
In Play: Boffins are often assumed to have an awkward sense of everyday affairs: "Godfrey produced what might be expected from the boffin he is: he set up a flowchart showing his wife how to hoover (vacuum) their home." We see a gathering of boffins in the movie "The Imitation Game", in which the chief boffin is Alan Turing, working within the Bletchley Circle, a secret decoding group in England.
Word History: No one knows the origin of today's Good Word, though we do know it arose in Britain during World War II, when scientific investigators were secretly solving problems from The Enigma Machine to the atom bomb. Eric Partridge proposed its eponym was Nicodemus Boffin, a Dickens' character in the novel Our Mutual Friend. This Boffin was an odd-looking fellow who pursued an education late in life. Others have suggested the names of a J. R. R. Tolkien character and a William Morris character for sources. The arguments for these origin are even less impressive than for the Dickens' character. (Our gratitude today is due our South African friend Chris Stewart for recommending today's puzzling Good Word.)
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