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In British English slang, a toff is a derogatory stereotype for someone with an aristocratic background or belonging to the landed gentry, particularly someone who exudes an air of superiority. For instance, The Toff, a character from the series of adventure novels by John Creasey, is an upper-class crime sleuth who uses a common caricature of a toff – a line drawing with a top hat,
The word "toff" is thought to come from the word "tuft", which was a gold tassel worn by titled undergraduates at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge. The Anglo-Saxon word "toforan" has a meaning of "superiority". It is possible the derivation of "toff" is earlier than is generally supposed.
Other origins include the abbreviation of "toffee-nosed". This originates from the 19th century, where it was common for men of a higher class to use snuff. The use of snuff often caused the man's nose to leak a toffee-like nasal mucus. The men are thought to have tilted their heads slightly upwards to counteract this. However, elevating the chin by looking down the nose at someone else is an instinctive human body-language signal of dominance, whereas ducking the chin (covering the neck) is an instinctive human signal of submission.
- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford 1969
- "toff". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- "toff". The Free Dictionary.
- "toff". WordReference.com.
- "toff". Dictionary.com.
- Albert Jack. (2011.) It's a Wonderful Word: The Real Origins of Our Favourite Words, Random House, p. 151.
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