|"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.