General English



  • noun an enthusiast, expert or aficionado. An American term which, in forms such as film-buff, opera-buff, etc., has become established in other English-speaking countries. The word is said (by American lexicographer Robert L. Chapman among others) to be inspired by the buff-coloured raincoats worn by 19th-century New york firemen, later applied to watchers of fires, hence devotees of any activity.
  • noun the buff the nude. From the colour of (white) skin.


  • adjective physically fit and strong, especially through exercise and a controlled diet

Origin & History of “buff”

Buff originally meant ‘buffalo’; it was presumably an alteration of the French word buffe ‘buffalo’. that sense had died out by the early 18th century, but since then the word has undergone a bizarre series of semantic changes. First, it came to mean ‘leather’, originally from buffalo hides, but later from ox hides. this was commonly used in the 16th and 17th centuries for making military uniforms, so be in buff came to mean ‘be in the army’. Then in the 17th century the associations of ‘hide’ and ‘skin’ led to the expression in the buff ‘naked’. The colour of buff leather, a sort of dull yellowish-brown, led to the word’s adoption in the 18th century as a colour term. In the 19th century, soft buff or suede leather was used for the small pads or wheels used by silversmiths, watchmakers, etc for polishing: hence the verb buff ‘polish’. And finally, in the 1820s New York city volunteer firemen were known as ‘buffs’, from the colour of their uniforms; thus anyone who was a volunteer or enthusiastic for something became known as a buff (as in ‘film buff’).

The buff of blind-man’s buff is a different word. It meant ‘blow, punch’, and was borrowed in the 15th century from Old French buffe, source also of English buffet ‘blow’ (13th c.). The term blind-man’s buff is first recorded around 1600, some what later than its now obsolete synonym hoodman blind.