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Both Dufus and Doofus seem to be common on the web, so I'm not sure which is the correct spelling, if either.

It's kind of a cool word. Do we have any idea where/how it originated?

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OED has an interesting chain of etymology.

doofus Origin uncertain: perhaps an alteration of goofus n.1 Perhaps compare German doof stupid, dopey

goofus Origin uncertain; compare goof n.

goof Apparently a use of dialect goof, goff n.2

goff Apparently < French goffe awkward, stupid, < Italian goffo (Spanish gofo), of uncertain origin.

It's intriguing that an English word might have descended via separate routes from words in two different languages which mean the same thing [that is, stupid].

  • the terms goofus and doofus have different meanings in the US. – RyeɃreḁd Sep 13 '13 at 15:59
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So, a quick Google search for "etymology doofus" produces:

enter image description here

And...

Perhaps from German doof (“stupid”), from Low German where it orignally means "deaf" (akin to English deaf).

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/dufus

Do these not answer the question?

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    I don't get that chart when I search Google (but do get plenty of other useful results). What's the source for the chart (presumably when click More)? – Hugo Sep 13 '13 at 21:03
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I was surprised to see how late the term doofus arrived in American English. Here is part of the entry for the word in Chapman & Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, Third Edition (1995):

doofus by 1960s (also doof or doofis or dufus) ... A fool; idiot = AIRHEAD, BIRDBRAIN, BOOB ... [probably related to doo-doo and goofus]

I'm not persuaded by the proffered etymology here, though it's certainly possible—especially if the word was coined by children in the United States. Doo-doo, of course, is baby talk for excrement, and Chapman & Kipfer says that that term has been in use since the 1940s. The same reference says that goofus (in the sense of "stupid person") goes at least as far back as 1918.

Doofus doesn't appear in Partridge's [abridged] Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1989), suggesting that the word originated in the United States. This book does have an entry for doof, but it is identified as a Northumberland teenager term meaning to strike or punch.

American children who visited dentists' offices in the 1950s and 1960s are likely to have been exposed to a feature in the magazine Highlights for Children called "Goofus and Gallant," which illustrated proper (in the line-drawn person of a neatly dressed boy named Gallant) and improper (in the person of a budding slob named Goofus) etiquette. According to the Wikipedia article on the comic strip, "Goofus & Gallant" debuted in 1940 in Children's Activities magazine, moved to Highlights for Children in 1946, and continues to appear in the now-renamed Highlights: Fun with a Purpose. Aside from the mildly entertaining (but usually already circled in pencil) hidden pictures feature, I remember nothing fun about Highlights. But maybe the point was to anesthetize children before they got into the dentist's chair. I see that J.R. and RyeBread have already weighed in on this U.S. cultural landmark.


UPDATE: March 2, 2015

Since I now have access to J.E. Lighter's excellent Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994), I decided to add some of the details of its coverage of doofus and goofus to my earlier answer. First, for doofus:

doofus or dufus n. {prob. alter. of GOOFUS but cf. DOOF; not, as sometimes claimed, of Yid[dish] orig.} 1. a fool; dolt; oaf.—often attrib. [First references:] 1960 N.Y.C. schoolboy: You doofus! 1964 N.Y.C. high-school student: Man, you're such a doofus!...Hey, doofus! 1966 C. Cooper

Next, for the much older doof:

doof n. {of Scots orig.; prob. related to G doof 'dense, stupid, dull-witted'; ...1. a dolt; DOOFUS. [First references:] 1728 in [Grant,] S[cottish] N[ational] Dictionary]: He get her! slaverin Doof. 1788 in SND: A bigger doof was never seen.

In fact, Joseph Wright, The English Dialect Dictionary, D–G (1900) correctly identifies that first citation for "slaverin doof"as coming from three years earlier, from Allan Ramsay, The Gentle Shepherd (1725):

Mause. Gif Pate forsakes her, Bauldy she may gain;/Yonder he comes, and wow but he looks fain!/ Nae doubt he thinks that Peggy's now his ain.

Madge. He get her! slaverin doof; it sets him weil/To yoke a plough where Patrick thought to till./Gif I were Meg, I'd let young Master see—

And again from Lighter, the entry for goofus:

goofus n. a fool; idiot [First references:] 1917 Wadsworth Gas Attack 19: Joe Goofus, of the 105th Infantry was a Wise Guy. 1917 in Niles Singing Soldiers 5: Why, Oley, you rum-befuddled goovus, I'll bet you don't remember your orders.

The Wadsworth Gas Attack citation is from the December 15, 1917 issue of that periodical, in an article titled "The Detail Ducker and the Terrible Teuton":

Joe Goofus of the 105th Infantry was a Wise Guy. He admitted it. He claimed the all-round "championship" of the the 27th Division as a detail ducker.

The Singing Soldiers book appears to be from 1927, rather than 1917, judging from several other sources.

In view of the facts that doof (with the meaning "dolt, doofus") has existed in Scots English since at least 1725 and that goofus (with the meaning "fool, idiot") has been around since World War I, it seems not at all far-fetched to suppose that doofus (which Hugo, in a comment below this answer, traces to a first occurrence in the New York Times Magazine of December 25, 1955) was derived from a mashup of doof and goofus. Here, in case Hugo's comment disappears for some reason, is the quotation from J. Lardner's 1955 New York Times Magazine article:

Doofus lost every round from the third, but they give him the duke!

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    It's in the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2008): "doofus; dufus noun 1 a dolt, a fool US, 1955. 2 in caving and pot- holing, an inept cave. A specialist variation US, 2004". The 1955 must be the same as in the OED: "[1955 J. Lardner in N.Y. Times Mag. 25 Dec. 10/1 Doofus lost every round from the third, but they give him the duke!]". Note the parentheses. The first full quotation is 1967. – Hugo Sep 13 '13 at 21:09
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I don't know if this is correct, but it may be related to 'doofers', Scots for 'horse shit' which also doubles up as an insult.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/27/robert-macfarlane-word-hoard-rewilding-landscape

[from the excellent Cambridge academic Robert Macfarlane]

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Goofus and doofus were slang terms used in the black and white days of the US. If you heard them on TV they were both considered very harsh words at the time. Now they are mild at best.

The word goofus and doofus are different.

Goofus: Has the modern iteration of goofball. Means somebody that is quirky, different, maybe a little spazzy.

Doofus: Has the modern iteration of big-dummy. Means that you do stupid things, not necessarily that you are dumb.

These are both slang terms. You will find both in movie quotes starting in the 60s (maybe in the 50s but would have been heavy language then) and throughout the 80s. Both terms kind of died down but not out in the 90s. You would use them mainly in a lovable way now.

The word dufus I am sure comes from the doofi that cannot spell.

  • Interesting, do you have any sources that reference the 'harsh' usage? – yochannah Sep 13 '13 at 14:53
  • It is mainly the context in how they were used back in the day. Like if you had two kids fighting on a playground one might say "You are a doofus." Then the other kid has nothing else to do but throw a punch because those were fighting words. And note goofus would not have worked or made sense there. – RyeɃreḁd Sep 13 '13 at 15:17
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    No discussion about the etymology of Goofus would be complete without at least a mention of Goofus and Gallant. (In the middle strip of the January 1961 archive found at that link, many ELUers might appreciate how Goofus ends a sentence with a dangling preposition, while Gallant uses may instead of can.) :^) – J.R. Sep 13 '13 at 15:26
  • @J.R. Yes - I still love the highlight picture search. Goofus has bad manners and is absent minded. Bad boy goofus. But goofus is not necessarily a doofus. – RyeɃreḁd Sep 13 '13 at 15:58
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Doofus,as commonly used in my various cicles back to the 60's, is an amiable and likable person who can't help but "goof"up. The tone of voice is usually affectionate and endearing. The word expresses frustration without harsh or souless criticism.

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    Hi Noji: the question is focused not on the meaning or usage of the word, but its origin. Are you saying that it originated in the 1960s (if so, a source for that would be helpful), or that you used it then (in which case, you aren't addressing the question)? – Nathaniel Sep 28 '15 at 2:44

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