Not being a speaker of British English, I was much amused on discovering the new adjective toffee-nosed. The American Heritage dictionary doesn't list it at all, but I found a definition in Collins:

snobbish; pretentiously superior

The Phrase Finder (UK) goes on to explain that it derives from toff, a slang term given by the lower-classes to stylishly-dressed upper-class gentlemen. So immediately there is a classist aspect to it. Apparently it is also >150 years old, and not used throughout the UK.

I have two (well, more technically) questions about this word.

Is the word itself still understood as being used by the lower class, or does its use connote something about the user other than disdain for the upper class? (Rephrased, is someone who uses the word toffee-nosed today, actually "toffee-nosed", that is, pretentious?)

And why is this illustration of a man with a pineapple (ananas) on his chest found with the definition of toffee-nosed? Does it imply anything about language?

man with a pineapple on chest![b

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    @Josh, the image is from the toffee-nosed entry at The Free Dictionary. Question is now where did they get it? – Dan Bron Nov 14 '14 at 10:44
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    In re: why that toffee-nosed man is associated with the symbol of a pineapple, check out The Social History of the Pineapple, Treat of Kings: Thus, into the 1600s, the pineapple remained so uncommon and coveted a commodity that King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait in an act then symbolic of royal privilege -- receiving a pineapple as a gift. – Dan Bron Nov 14 '14 at 10:52
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    @DanBron: Less usefully, The Free Dictionary definition says "Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.". Farlex own The Free Dictionary. So it's from some clipart collection they have. – Hugo Nov 14 '14 at 11:01
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    @medica It is a dated expression, as is toff. I would be surprised to find anyone under the age of 60, in Britain, using it. But it was widely used in my youth, in the 1950s. The reason for its demise, as much as anything, has been due to the changing social class structure in Britain of the last seventy years. If you watch Downton Abbey - well they were the toffs! But they didn't last long in that style after the second WW. – WS2 Nov 14 '14 at 11:04
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    I think the expression is now used more for a general snobbish attitude rather than a classist one: British, informal + disapproving : having or showing the attitude of people who think they are better than other people : snobbish. Toffee-nosed art critics. learnersdictionary.com/definition/toffee-nosed – user66974 Nov 14 '14 at 11:08

Is the word itself still understood as being used by the lower class, or does it's use connote something about the user other than disdain for the upper class? (Rephrased, is someone who uses the word toffee-nosed today, actually "toffee-nosed", that is, pretentious?)

I'd say it's mainly used by people who wouldn't be considered toffee-nosed, usually against those considered posh or acting in a snobbish manner, and it's rarely a compliment.

Here's a few tweets:

  • . . I very much doubt that even the toffee nosed, pompous arses who do stumble across my page will share your views." (source)

  • Oh how sad...I just got a press release saying 'Britain's stately home owners living in fuel poverty'. My poor heart is bleeding for aristos

    • sell up then u bunch of toffee nosed eejits (source)
  • she called Craig a toffee nosed pretty boy. Wtf? (source)

  • Watch out for my rant half hour in i was surrounded by posh snobby money obsessed toffee nosed snobs & i had to say my bit. (source)

  • It was horrible Ry! I shan't be using public transport again.

    • mahaa....toffee nosed cow....oh,i finished coven tonight, hmmm.... (source)
  • George Osborne on The Agenda

    • Can't stand his politics but he's actually coming across as less toffee-nosed and robotic than normal. (source)

So here one is referring to stately-home owners; another person is calling a friend toffee-nosed for not wanting to travel on the bus due to other noisy passengers; another is referring to the privately-educated, Conservative chancellor of the exchequor with an estimated personal fortune of around £4 million.

  • Thanks! One source of my confusion is the comparison to the word posh. In the US, I never hear people actually say posh. It sounds a bit pretentious to me, maybe like someone describing someone else as "un bon vivant". People may write that way, but... well, I think of Truman Capote or George Plimpton or a Vanderbuilt actually talking like that. (But definitely not a Rockefeller.) (Now my classism is showing :/) – anongoodnurse Nov 14 '14 at 11:18
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    "Posh" is still in reasonably common use in the UK, and not always pejoratively. "They had their wedding in a posh hotel" could be approving or disapproving, depending on the tone of voice. – Colin Fine Nov 14 '14 at 11:29
  • @ColinFine - I'm sorry. I didn't know that (AmE here). I hope I didn't give offense; none was meant. – anongoodnurse Nov 14 '14 at 11:43
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    @medica: no offence. It often is pejorative (or envious), but not always. But using it is not pretentious in the least. – Colin Fine Nov 14 '14 at 11:49

Regarding the illustration.

It does look rather like a pineapple but I suspect it is just the clipart creator's idea of a jabot. These were worn by upper-class men at various times in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and are still sometimes worn with formal Scottish attire. (illustations)

At various times either a stand-up collar or a jabot was in fashion for upper-class men. Wearing both at the same time would not be usual, but perhaps that is the point of the illustration. It's use suggests that a toffee-nosed person feels he is so superior that just one or other of these signs of status is not enough - he has to wear both.

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    That certainly makes a lot of sense, whereas a man wearing a pineapple on his chest does not. :) – anongoodnurse Nov 14 '14 at 13:38
  • Indeed, please leave it here. You received 6 upvotes, which means it was valuable. :) – anongoodnurse Nov 25 '14 at 7:09

No one has yet discussed the derivation of the word toff (the source of toffee-nosed)—presumably because medica didn't ask. But in case anyone is interested, I offer the explanation that appears in Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Fifth Edition (1961):

toff. A 'swell' ; a 'nob' (well-to-do person) : proletarian : from 1850's ; slightly ob[solete]. Ca. 1868, there was a music-hall song entitled The Shoreditch Toff, by Arthur Lloyd ; ... Ex tuft ["A titled undergraduate: 1755, in tuft-hunter, one who, at Oxford or Cambridge, toadies to the young noblemen ; ... Ex the tuft or gold tassel worn on their caps by aristocratic students"] via toft ["A variant, prob. the imm. source of toff, ... ca. 1850–1910. ... If not toff debased—and the dates seem to preclude this—then tuft corrupted"]

As this derivation suggests, toff was generally applied to males. Partridge includes a note on this point:

Augustus Mayhew, Paved with Gold, 1858, records that among London crossing-sweepers (of the 1850's–1860's) 'the insulting epithet of "doll" was applied every aged female'—precisely as 'the rather degrading appellation of "toff" was given to all persons of the male gender'.

One wonders, though, how crossing-sweepers became conversant with Oxbridge college slang.

As for toffee-nosed, Partridge traces a winding path from toff to tofficky ("Showy ; vulgarly dressed ; low : ca.1860–1914") to toffish/toffy {"Stylish ; 'swell' : resp. from ca. 1873, when toffishness occurs in Greenwood's Strange Company") to toffee-nosed ("Supercilious ; too proud ; conceited : lower classes : C. 20 ; ob[solete]"). The obsolete tag appeared in the 1937 edition of Partridge, but the 1961 edition notes that during World War II, toffee-nosed and the noun toffee-nose were "very popular"—so this is an instance in which a moribund slang term gains new life at a later period.

Partridge also includes entries for toff-omee ("the superlative of toff [1909]"), toff-shoving ("'Pushing about well-dressed men in a crowd' : London roughs : ca. 1882–1900"), and toffer ("A fashionable whore : low : ca. 1860–1914").


And why is this illustration of a man with a pineapple (ananas) on his chest found with the definition of toffee-nosed? Does it imply anything about language?

I believe I have found the connection between the pineapple on the man's shirt and toffee-nosed, in the end, the easiest explanation was the most logical. In Victorian England, and elsewhere in Europe, the pineapple fruit was a symbol of wealth and great status. Nowadays a pineapple costs £1.72 in British money, but in 1862 it sold for 5s - the equivalent of £149 in real terms.

The illustration is therefore a caricature, the ascot tie has taken on the semblance of a pineapple, and by doing so the illustrator is telling us about the man's social position, class and wealth.

Pineapple cultivation in Britain

Its introduction to Europe resulted in a veritable mania for growing pineapples and parading them at the dinner table became a fashion requisite of 18th century nobility. In Britain and the Netherlands the practice was not the preserve of the aristocracy but also extended to the gentry. The pineapple was a representation of owners’ wealth but also a testimony to their gardeners’ skill and experience. Producing a crop of tropical fruit in the colder climes of Europe before the advent of the hot water heating system in 1816 was a remarkable achievement and was, perhaps not unjustly, described as ‘artistry’.

The founding of horticultural societies during the Victorian period brought new opportunities for the display of pineapples at horticultural shows, a tradition that lasted until the beginning of the 20th century. However, the inevitable demise of the pineapple as horticultural status symbol began with the arrival of imported fruit from the Azores at the end of the 19th century.

Sources: BBC Business, Building Conservation and Pinterest

Notes on 19th and early 20th century men fashion

The gentleman in the image appears to be wearing an imperial collar, a very high (3-inch) stiff, standing detachable collar. This style was known as an Imperial "lap-front" or "poke" collar. Clicking on the link will lead you to a photo of a young man, you'll notice that he isn't wearing a jabot but instead an ascot tie, the typical accompaniment for that type of collar, which became a popular combination from the 1880s and was usually worn with men's morning dress.

Basically, the illustration was chosen to illustrate toffee nosed because the man is evidently wealthy; appears to be hoity-toity; snotty; snooty; uppish; and has the airs of a proper toff. He personifies the image of the clichèd British upper-classes before the end of the First World War.

Pineapple idiom

The only thing I found which could possibly connect the gentleman's elegant attire with this exotic fruit was this Australian idiom:

Oxford Dictionaries says

(Aus) informal
The rough end of the pineapple A situation in which someone receives unfair or harsh treatment
Example: The workers, so far from being emancipated, would continue to get the rough end of the pineapple, as they had from the beginning of time.

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    Interesting research!! :) – user66974 Nov 15 '14 at 11:39
  • Your google-fu is impressive, as always! :) – anongoodnurse Nov 15 '14 at 13:23
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    @medica thank you! It makes up for the two down votes which this answer received. – Mari-Lou A Nov 21 '14 at 13:17
  • @Mari-LouA - You were absolutely correct about the pineapple. I found the same illustration with a different "shirt" relating to a different word. (I've forgotten it now, but it was perfectly clear that the front of the shirt was symbolic!) – anongoodnurse Mar 4 '15 at 13:46

You are correct that it is archaic.

An interest in archaic language could in itself be an indication of middle-class status, although not an infallible one.

See Kate Fox's very well-observed book "Watching the English" for more class indicators.

Oh, and I have no idea about the pineapple. That's just weird.

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