Sometimes one grows up using an expression which has entered the language at some point, you have heard your parents use it, and have heard others use it, and even used it yourself in your own career and environment. Then it comes as a surprise to learn that not only does not everyone understand it, some have never even heard it. Thus it was when Janet Angelo, the editor of the latest Harry Heron adventure, The Outer Edge, dropped me an email asking what the term "boffin" meant. It is one I have heard my father, my grandfather, various officers and non-commissioned officers use and have used myself in my own service career in the Fire and Emergency Services.
So, if Janet didn't know it, where does it come from?
Jolly Jack Tar usually added a rider to the general definition, probably since most of the "experts" he encountered sometimes appeared to have only incidental contact with reality. As my father once told me, with some of the 'boffins' they encountered, if he said "Oops" everyone dived for cover.