Donald Trump continues to invoke references that might be obscure or passé to many of his supporters, and Monday’s tweets included references to “the late, great Bob Hope” and a reply to the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman saying “Every rally is BOFFO.”
But what exactly was he trying to say? Boffo is one of the terms coined by Variety to describe anything outstanding, like a hit movie. Merriam-Webster said that searches for the word spiked 90,000% on Monday.
Since 1905, Variety has reviewed thousands of performances and reported on just as many box office results and quarterly earnings. So the newspaper coined words (nicknamed “slanguage”) to liven up what was often dry material about business dealings. The first use of “boffo” was in 1939; it was a synonym for other Variety coinages like whammo and socko.
The Oxford English Dictionary says Variety popularized or invented about two dozen words and phrases, including soap opera, sitcom, whodunit, punchline and striptease. These terms entered the popular vocabulary; however, “boffo,” even though it’s often recognized, is not widely used outside of Variety.
Esquire wrote about Variety and its colorful language in 1981 with the Variety-esque headline “Biz Rag Boffo Say Buffs,” quoting Bob Hope’s publicist as saying, “Variety? Sure. His quote on that is, ‘I read Variety — even when I’m not in it.’”
As it became available online around the world, Variety gradually discontinued the use of most slanguage, including “boffo.”
Trump’s use of the vintage word is yet another reminder that a major part of his career was spent breathlessly waiting for ratings results from “The Apprentice.” And, like his use of music by the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, he didn’t clear it with Variety first.