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TO BOOF OR NOT TO BOOF

“Boof” is in the OED, and it does not mean what you think it does

Reuters/Win McNamee
Did this man boof?
By Corinne Purtill
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Among the 1,400 new words, phrases, and definitions added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) this month is a noun that has enjoyed sudden popularity of late: boof.

Interest in the term spiked following US Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Sept. 27 testimony before a Senate panel when he testified in relation to the claim that, as a teenager, he sexually assaulted classmate Christine Blasey Ford.

For many English speakers, their first introduction to the word boof came when senator Sheldon Whitehouse queried Kavanaugh about its inclusion in the then-Supreme Court nominee’s high-school yearbook entry.

WHITEHOUSE: …judge, have you—I don’t know if it’s “buffed” or “boofed”—how do you pronounce that? 
KAVANAUGH: That refers to flatulence. We were 16.

The internet immediately erupted with protests that Kavanaugh was not being truthful, though it could not reach consensus on the actual meaning of boof. Commenters were divided on whether the term referred to sexdrugs, or kayaking.

But boof, at least in its original form, is none of those things. According to the OED, a boof is “a blow that makes a sound like a rapid, brief movement of air.” The onomatopoeic word’s first known appearance in the English language, as the OED tells it, is an 1825 reference in the Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. (The OED’s only mention of a Devil’s Triangle, in case you’re wondering, is a nickname for the infamous plane-swallowing Bermuda Triangle.)

In fact, the word’s appearance on the list of new OED entries has nothing to do with the Kavanaugh hearings. It was really a matter of timing: in each quarter of the year, the dictionary’s word researchers review different thematic and alphabetical sections of the dictionary in search of overlooked words and definitions—there’s no way for them to review the entire lexicon every quarter. The section of the alphabet in which boof resides came up for review in the most recent round of OED revisions. It joins boobed, boodlery, boogalee, and more than a dozen other words starting with “boo” in the list of new entries.

“It’s not the boof of the Kavanaugh hearings,” says Katherine Martin, head of US dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “It’s a totally unrelated word and its inclusion was because we revised a number of entries in that alphabetical range, things with ‘b-o-o’ in them, and that came up.” Boof’s confirmation to a lifetime appointment in the definitive record of the English language at this particular moment is nothing more than a lexicographical coincidence.

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