Saturday, 15 June 2013


Bully, Biff, Belswagger, Bangster, Thomas F. Wilson, School violence, Butthead
"What are you looking at, butthead?"


Interjection, verb & noun. Colloquial (originally US). As interjection, also bif. Mid-19th century.

A interjection. Reproducing the sound of a smart blow. M19

B1 verb trans. Hit, strike. L19
B2 verb intrans. Go; proceed. E19
B3 verb trans. & intrans. Throw. Australian & NZ. M20

C noun. A blow; a whack. L19

There can be few more pleasing examples of onomatopoeia than biff, which has the rather ambiguous quality of being imitative yet euphemistic (to biff someone sounds a lot less violent than to punch someone), and also rather middle-class and posh, as in: "You're getting my dander up, you dashed blackguard! I've a good mind to give you a smart biff on the nose!"

Biff Tannen, of course, is also the main antagonist in the classic Back to the Future trilogy. A seemingly untouchable belswagger, Biff thinks nothing of meting out quite extreme violence on those that oppose him. As well as his forename alluding to violence, it's noteworthy that to tan is also rather old-fashioned slang meaning to beat, as in the oft-heard parental refrain: "If you don't behave, young man, I'll tan your hide!" (it's possible, therefore, that the young Biff Tannen is himself a victim, one of nominative determinism - boo hoo for him).

In a pivotal scene in the first film, Biff is served his just desserts (with generous lashings of comeuppance) when George McFly ... well ... biffs him. It's actually quite a dark and nightmarish moment, with the timid and somewhat cowardly George struggling to find the courage to not walk away from an imminent rape. Valour prevails, however, and the destiny of numerous characters hinges on that one moment in which George refuses to be a bystander. You can watch Biff getting biffed in one of the truly great cinematic punches in the video below: 

Have you ever been biffed? Have you ever biffed anyone? Are you named Biff and do you feel it caused you to become a violent bully? Do please leave any comments below.


  1. I was once biffed in the stomach by a guy who thought he was a kind of Biff. Actually, he was just a 10 year old boy punching the air out of a 10 year old girl's lungs. Ah, memories.

    1. Oh Bibi! What a rotter! That's the second time you've mentioned that - it must be quite a powerful memory for you : o /

    2. It still gives me nightmares! (I would do really bad in a job that requires regular punches)

      I once mentioned this story to my Mum and she asked: "you did go to see a teacher about it, right?" You know what? I didn't. I was so blown away by the whole thing, I didn't even think about telling an adult. The unwritten laws of the courtyard...

    3. Yes. "Just tell the teacher" is very easy advice to give from an adult's perspective - for a child it's a much harder thing to do.

  2. I was about 14. My 7-year-old cousin had taken up kick boxing. He was so enthusiastic about it that he biffed me in the stomach. Oh, the pain and the mixture of emotions, anger and fear that I would have internal bleeding. I don't remember what happened afterwards but I think he got yelled at, because ever since then he has never raised his fists when he's around people. He's now 20.

    1. I grew up with lots of brothers, so being hit by someone never really had the same 'shock factor' that you and Bibi seem to describe. I must say - the word 'biff' does seem a little soft and euphemistic for both of your stories : o /

  3. Hmm... interesting. Our use of the term "biff" here has always meant to fall, as in "I biffed it on the pavement!" In that case, I have "biffed" it repeatedly, especially when it came to learning to ride a bicycle. I went over my handlebars face first once. There was rather a lot of blood that time...

    As for being biffed, I can't say that I ever recall anyone purposely biffing me. I did know a boy in junior high who was notorious for "joking around" with me. One day, I had enough! I biffed him - right in the shin! My teacher, who happened to be watching, must have thought he deserved it too because he never said a word!

    1. Yeah ... that knowing look when an adult sees something happen to a kid and turns a blind eye, thinking: "You had that coming, mate." : o )

      As for bikes ... ouch! I had a couple of nasty falls myself : o /

  4. RYC: You're absolutely right about being flexible. You never know what's going to happen, be it good or bad, and everything that happens in life shapes you in some kind of way. Three years from now, my list might look completely different. It's just nice to know you're not wandering around aimlessly. :)

    1. RYC: I shall try to remain a blogging person for as long as possible :)

      Happy father's day, Ed! Enjoy a day with the family today!

  5. Well indeed!

    Some Father's Day this is turning out to be! The first thing waiting for me when I awoke was an email from the most brazen of bigoted barmy bloggers Nick Number, informing me that it's actually spelt 'just deserts' rather than 'just desserts'. This so-called "Nick Number" (if that is his real name) even brought back-up, citing such sources as Snopes (pff ... who are they?) to suggest that 'deserts' is actually a different word altogether, related to 'deserve', and the use of 'desserts' is a common mistake on account of the fact that both word are pronounced the same.

    Well indeed, Mr Number: know that I will be retaining my chosen spelling of 'desserts' on this page, as fond as I am of desserts generally, and as deeply entrenched in the syrupy metaphor that that sentence is. However, do note that I have read your blog also, A Vandal's History of Something-or-other, and I've found it to be rife with factual inexactitudes.

    You haven't heard the last of this! I *will* be covering the word 'desert' (the deserving rather than the sandy type) and commenting incisively on the type of pointless pedantry such a word inspires. Yes, it's true that the OED, Chambers, Snopes and a plethora of other sources agree with you and the position you've taken, but that's neither here nor there: at that time, Mr Number, it will be *you* that is eating *your* just desserts ...

    (yes, you read it right)

    Yours caustically,

    Emphatically Affronted Ed

    1. Dear sir,

      I have written to complain in the strongest possible terms about your contumacious misuse of the word "desserts". How would it be if we all went our way through the world, hurling about desserts willy-nilly? It would lead to a very sticky wicket indeed.

      As to the defamatory obloquy you attempt to heap upon my scholarly pursuits, I shall have you know that every single statement I publish is accompanied by a citation of the most unimpeachable nature. To suggest otherwise, with allegations of factual inexactitudes, is to call into question the very value of collaborative encyclopedic endeavor on the Internet. On behalf of all participants, I feel myself very much embiffened by your post, and demand a retraction of your detraction post-haste.