“Toff”

Reader Bruce Stoneback sends along the quote below, and suggests looking into toff (i.e., upper-class twit). I have done so, and strangely found that every recent American reference is to the same person:

“And if you are Mitt Romney, with Mitt Romney’s biography, résumé and bankroll, there are certain things you don’t want to be filmed saying in a dining room full of toffs in a Boca Raton, Fla., mansion that looks like a location from Eyes Wide Shut (and whose owner reportedly threw a tabloid-notorious sex party at an estate in the Hamptons).”–James Poniewozik, Time, October 1, 2012

“Romney isn’t the bumbling toff he’s made out to be.”–The Daily Beast, September 17, 2012

“We may wince when the blithering toff, or want-wit, as Shakespeare would say, arrives at the Brits’ home and throws his Cherry Coke Zero can in the prize rose bushes. But what drives his gaffes is his desire to preen over accomplishments.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times, July 28, 2012, referring to Mitt Romney.

28 responses to ““Toff”

  1. This is the short form of toffee Nosed

  2. Rich toffs as you refer too about Rommey ALWAYS have ( tranklements ), It’s used often by old money well healed British toffs of the older generation. It means . He owns; boats, cars, houses, etc etc..
    Yes i am old and BRITISH TOO.

  3. I like that word, toff very much.

  4. Love this blog, I got here from the BBC article. I had no idea that Britishisms were creeping into American English. I’m a business English teacher in the Netherlands so this is of special interest to me as Dutch speakers are more exposed to American English via TV etc.
    One of my American friends is fond of the expression ‘brill,’ which always sounds hilarious when she says it!

  5. English as she is spoke.

    The exact opposite of a “Toff” is an “Oik”….. currently, (and equally as pejorative to some) meaning one of unpleasantly common origins or habits.

    All best

    • you are assuming to much. Toff has been around for 300 years, oki is a word that became into vouge in the swinging sixties in the kings road LONDON. Sorry to piss on your fire; but that’s life.

      • James Whitehead

        If only your rudeness were mitigated by some degree of factual accuracy! Sadly, you are wrong on both counts. The first recorded use of “toff” is from 1851 (so barely half your “300 years”); the first recorded use of “oik” is from 1917, with a suggestion that it was current slang at public schools by 1885.

      • ROGER HAZELDINE

        The word toff as you correct and penitently point out to me was adopted by under grads around 1850, reality is that this is an abbreviation from the anglo saxon word of toforan, mean superior. This got shortened to toff by the under grades who wished to be ( with it )

        Toforan was around in 1546 and can be traced back with out to much effort by the average oki.

      • James Whitehead

        If you are confident that your etymlogy is correct, send your evidence to the OED! They don’t even list it as a possibility at present – so I suspect there is little-to-no evidence for your claim that the words are related.

        (your story holds little water, incidentally – there is no evidence that it originated amongst the undergraduates concerned).

      • ROGER HAZELDINE

        Enjoy your day.

  6. In Brit Eng, “toff” doesn’t say anything directly about intelligence – just class/wealth. It’s pejorative, like “pleb”, but a shade less insulting.

  7. This made me think about the derivation of toff. Without thinking much about it, I had always assumed it was connected to the term “toffee-nosed” (which, of course, begs the question why toffee? why nose?)

    The OED suggests a connection with “tuft”, a tassel on a hat worn by aristocratic undergraduates in 19th century Oxford and Cambridge. This seemed a long shot, until I recalled a passage in Trollope’s “Doctor Thorne”. Two characters, Mr. Moffat and Miss Dunstable, are wealthy heirs to fathers who made their fortunes “in trade”, and are sojourning at Courcey Castle where they are expected to be married off to members of impoverished aristocracy. Mr. Moffat observes that their hosts, for all their determination to claim their fortunes, regard these middle-class upstarts as “tuft-hunters”.

    • Toffee-nosed i believe relates to the effect of snuff (which was popular with the upper-classes). it caused the nose to run. This was brown in colour as a result of the tobacco thus the term toffee-nosed. (Ref: Sue Arnold’s book Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy [2006])

  8. With respect, please note that “begs the question” is not a synonym for “prompts (or suggests) the question.” It refers instead to a particular logical fallacy that uses what is to be proven to prove what is to be proven. In any event, I too, like Peter Biddlecombe, do not associate “toff” with lack of intelligence, but rather with a sense of entitlement to superiority. I would not consider “toff” to be a synonym for an “upper-class twit” by any means.

    • Your comments ring true, it’s nice to see so many well educated yanks enjoying our slang English. A little more practice and finally good English and slang will prevail across the pond. chin up old boy. chin up.!!!

    • I’m afraid, when it comes to language, usage trumps derivation. “Begging the question” may have entered English as a translation of a specific Latin philosophical term, and may continue to be used as such by the minority to which that’s relevant, but nowadays it’s more commonly used to mean exactly what it is you say it doesn’t or shouldn’t mean. I can understand the frustration, but that’s by the by; just as ‘vagina’ no longer means sword sheath, ‘begging the question’ no longer – to the vast majority of English speakers – refers to a logical fallacy, and it’s from there, not by reference to history, that we arrive at the definition of a word or phrase.

      • “‘ … [B]egging the question’ no longer – to the vast majority of English speakers – refers to a logical fallacy … ” I should very much like to see the statistical data behind this assertion. And while I do not subscribe to a prescriptive approach to language, I think those engaged in discussions about language should at very least try to employ the correct meanings of words and phrases. Clearly, those who use “begging the question” to mean “prompting” or “suggesting” the question got started doing so by misunderstanding the original meaning of the phrase, then trying to “put on the dog” by using it when they might just as well have said “prompting” or “suggesting.” In a way, perhaps they were themselves “toffs.”

      • Just to make things clear:
        I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a toff.
        I used the term “begs the question” in my original entry, not in the sense that my wondering about the derivation of “toffee-nosed” suggested or prompted the question “why toffee-nosed?”, but in the sense that my original answer (toff is derived from toffee-nosed) didn’t answer the question to my satisfaction, and so wasn’t really an answer.
        So, possibly a mistake, but not quite as simple-minded a mistake as the one attributed to me.

  9. We referred to the uppity ups as toffs (meaning wealthy upper class), but anyone acting snobby we called toffee nosed gits.
    Chris you asked why toffee, I believe its because snobs are viewed as stuck up and toffee is sticky. Here is one explanation of why.
    http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/toffee-nosed.html

  10. Does nobody remember the Toff character created by John Creasey? He was very definitely upper-crust, always neatly turned-out, and boasted a Jeeves-like manservant called Jolly. Was involved in a lot of very dangerous situations, too, but happily always emerged unscathed.

  11. I think “toff” is more about class (real, imagined or affected) than about money.

    Aristocrats are toffs.
    It conveys a certain nose in the air, looking down at the working classes and those “in trade” sense.

    Romney would not be a toff.
    He’d be a twat with dosh.

  12. .
    Hmmmm….
    According to David Cameron, who actually IS a Toff (Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon Club, etc.), he’s on record saying that a “Twat” is one who uses Twitter a lot.
    .

  13. Have you come across the word twit as in ‘he is a complete twit’?
    Toffs are often twits as well.

    • ROGER HAZELDINE

      From past times enjoying a pimms no 1 on the lawn on sunndy after noon chatting with friends the word twit was often used almost exclusively to refer to goofy headed girls or young females who were nice and dippy with it.

  14. The explanation I’ve read that makes most sense to me is that toffee-nosed, the long form of toff, was inspired by the brown drippings at the ends of the noses of snuff-takers. Generally only the upper classes could afford snuff. One would naturally lift up one’s nose in the process and keep it up to minimize the dripping–a posture that instinctively appears snobby, the opposite of scraping and bowing.

  15. Upper-class men are sometimes called ‘chinless wonders’.

  16. Pingback: Slightly Off “Toff: | Not One-Off Britishisms

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