Australian Style words



Given the global spread of English, it’s no wonder that the most exhaustive record we have of it, the Oxford English dictionary (OED), sometimes takes a bit of time to catch up. It wasn’t until March 2012 that the online OED got around to including that great Australian adjective boofy. As if to make up for the oversight, they’ve given us 2 entries: one to describe the stereotypically stupid muscly bloke and the other, spelt bouffy, meaning ‘puffed out’ – used of hair or clothing. The Macquarie dictionary lists both of these under boofy, a shortening of boofhead, whereas the spelling bouffy is explained in the OED by its relation to the French bouffant (swelling). This origin does make sense, and indeed the earliest example in the OED (from the Australian Women’s Weekly, 1960) is spelt this way, as are some later citations. The boof in boofhead may be related to buffle – an obsolete form of buffalo. Whatever that beast’s claims to intelligence, I’m sure most boofy blokes would rather be compared to a thick-skulled, powerful ruminant than a voluminously frocked, big-haired glamour model.

Adam Smith
A version of this column was previously published in Campus Review.