Do you fancy yourself as a bit of a film buff? Or do you fancy your buff next door neighbour? Tim Bowen explains all about this interesting word.

The noun buff has come to mean someone who is both very interested in and knows a lot about a particular subject, usually an intellectual subject. Examples include a wine buff, a film buff, a theatre buff and a computer buff. To buff up on something means to become knowledge about or better at it, as in, 'I'm going to France next week, so I'd better buff up on my French.'

The noun is related to the verb to buff meaning to make something shine by rubbing it with a cloth.In the past, buffing was often done with a cloth made of soft leather, originally from buffalo skins (which is often believed to be the origin of buff) and later from cow hide. The colour of this skin was a yellowish brown. In the early 19th century firemen in New York wore a yellowish brown uniform and soon became known as The Buffs as a result. The firemen were volunteers and the word buff was then applied to anyone volunteering for a particular activity or showing enthusiasm for it, so today a wine buff is someone who knows a lot about wine and is very enthusiastic about it.

The adjective buff used to be used to describe men who looked muscular and fit. In modern colloquial English, it’s used to describe attractive, fit-looking people of both sexes.