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Brett Kavanaugh’s yearbook: the “boof” joke, explained

Kavanaugh has said it was a reference to flatulence. But the history of the word as a slang term suggests otherwise.

Brett Kavanaugh’s 1983 high school yearbook entry.
Brett Kavanaugh’s 1983 high school yearbook entry.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

For all the nostalgia they can inspire, school yearbooks are often full of things we’d rather forget: unflattering pictures, suggestions from people we may have liked more than they liked us urging to “keep in touch,” and awkward memories of who we once were.

Rarely do they serve as anything more than an occasionally bittersweet record of a very specific time in our lives. But in a major exception, the meaning of yearbooks and what young humans have memorialized in them is currently at the center of a national conversation with history-making repercussions, because of what Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his 1983 senior yearbook.

Three women have brought allegations of sexual misconduct and assault against Kavanaugh, describing drunken acts they say he committed in high school and college. Kavanaugh has emphatically denied those allegations, both during his Thursday testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and in previous statements, including a televised interview with Fox News in which he presented himself as a virginal square.

Now, there’s a debate over what type of person Kavanaugh really was in high school and who he is today, and his yearbook entry has become an artifact that many have looked to in an effort to discern the truth from fiction.

Of particular interest going into Thursday’s hearing was the phrase “Judge, have you boofed yet?” which appeared on Kavanaugh’s senior yearbook page. It seemingly corresponded to the phrase “Bart, have you boofed yet?” which appeared on his longtime friend and former classmate Mark Judge’s page. Judge, as Slate explains, published Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk, a 1997 memoir about his experience with alcoholism in high school that featured a character named “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” likely a reference to his real-life friend with the strikingly similar name.

Many subsequently wondered what it means to “boof.”

As expected, Kavanaugh was questioned about the yearbook during the hearing. In the process, he defined “boofing” as an immature term for flatulence — and was quickly disputed by at least one reporter who has interviewed his former classmates.

Here’s how that disputed definition factors into the argument that a man who’s being considered for a seat on the Supreme Court might also be someone who has demeaned and assaulted women.

The history of the word boof, explained

There’s certainly no shortage of entries for “boof” on Urban Dictionary, the website that frequently comes up in internet search results for anyone Googling the term. But the key to the etymological puzzle behind the word is knowing how it was used in the 1980s, when Kavanaugh and Judge included it in their yearbook entries. And most of the available evidence seems to point toward it being a slang term for anal sex.

One of the most concrete examples of it being used, though in a different context, is in the cult classic movie Teen Wolf. The movie was released in 1985, a couple of years after Kavanaugh and Judge wrote their yearbook entries. In it, Scott (Michael J. Fox) has two love interests, the blonde dream girl Pamela Wells (Lorie Griffin) and the brunette girl next door, Lisa “Boof” Marconi (Susan Ursitti).

Who Scott chooses isn’t as telling as the shock felt by some viewers — there’s actually an old message board conversation about it — that the movie featured a character known as Boof.

To some who were familiar with the term at the time, boof was slang for anal sex, hence the shock over Teen Wolf’s Boof.

There’s also another, totally different instance of “boof” being used in the 1980s. In 1981, two years before Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry, a man named John Paul Bonser was born. Bonser would grow up to become a professional baseball pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox, and the Oakland A’s. If the name John Paul Bonser doesn’t ring a bell even to baseball fans, it’s because he legally changed his name to Boof Bonser in 2001.

Bonser has said that his mother gave him the nickname when he was a child but never explained what it meant. “I don’t really want to know why, to be honest with you,” he told the New York Times in 2006. “I guess I had no reason to go up and ask her. I just left it at that.”

It’s very difficult to find established usage of “boof” in publications of the era, which is understandable given its risqué apparent definition and that it was slang. But in that message board conversation about Teen Wolf, a user who self-identified as being from the East Coast provided a corroborating account that “boof” grew out of “Bu-Fu (pronounced boo-foo), which was in turn short for butt fuck.”

There’s a similar account, posted in 2006, on this kayaking message board. In the kayaking world, “boof” is the name for a technique kayakers use when paddling toward a waterfall and has nothing to do with sex of any kind. Kayaking aficionados who participated in the discussion were tickled to learn that the maneuver had another, very different meaning.

A recent community post on Daily Kos, written in response to news reports about Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry, affirms the anal sex definition. And earlier this week, John Lomax, an editor at Texas Monthly, noted that even though he is younger than Kavanaugh and from a different geographical region, the word also had “bufu” origins and a similar meaning when he was in school:

The most sensible guess going into the hearing, then, was that when Kavanaugh and Judge each appeared to ask via their public yearbook entries if the other had “boofed yet,” they were two friends joking about whether they’d ever had anal sex.

Kavanaugh dismissed the term as a reference to flatulence — and was quickly disputed

But during the hearing itself, when Kavanaugh was asked directly to define the word, he said that he was referring to flatulence.

“I don’t know if it’s ‘buffed’ or ‘boofed,’ how do you pronounce that?” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Kavanaugh.

“That refers to flatulence,” Kavanaugh responded. “We were 16.”

Almost immediately after Kavanaugh stated that “boofed” was a reference to flatulence, doubt started to percolate. Not only does that definition not track with the history of the word, it is also at odds with what journalists who’ve spoken to Kavanaugh’s former classmates have reported. Some of those journalists have asserted that Kavanaugh and his peers’ understanding of “boof” was more in line with the anal sex slang:

Meanwhile, though the modern meaning of the word “boof” is different from the one Kavanaugh is likely to have known, it doesn’t ever appear to have been a reference to flatulence.

Today, the slang version of the term has mutated slightly. It still involves one’s rear end, but it now appears to mean ingesting alcohol or drug through one’s butt. A simple search on Reddit, Quora, Urban Dictionary, or Twitter confirms as much (and yields multiple tips and tricks for doing it).

What we talk about when we talk about Brett Kavanaugh’s yearbook entry

Trying to read between the lines of someone’s senior yearbook page is a strange exercise. But it’s not unlike the way, in 2018, we write our own narratives on social media, or piece together stories about other people we follow on social media.

We regularly share things that we think define us — from a cause we’re volunteering for to a joke we find funny to a political argument we agree with to a picture we think we look attractive in. We may have a desired outcome in mind, but we can’t control what the people who see our updates think. The way outsiders interpret the way we present ourselves is completely up to them.

On the one hand, it’s easy to compare Kavanaugh’s senior yearbook entry to a Twitter or Instagram feed and write it off as a teenager being a teenager. Kavanaugh undoubtedly put forth a specific persona in his yearbook, just like any teen would do today.

But on the other hand, Kavanaugh is now up for one of the most powerful positions in the United States, and his senior yearbook entry, along with a wall calendar he maintained at the time, is one of the only concrete things we have to refer to when processing serious allegations of sexual assault that have been brought against him from that time. Like it or not, they paint a picture of what he was like as a teen and a young man.

Christine Blasey Ford, who attended an all-girls high school while Kavanaugh attended Georgetown Prep, says that Kavanaugh pushed her down on the bed, covered her mouth to muffle her protests, and tried to remove her clothes. She says that Kavanaugh’s friend Mike Judge was in the room at the time.

Deborah Ramirez, the second woman to come forward with an allegation against Kavanaugh, says that in college, he thrust his penis in her face while laughing.

And Julie Swetnick, the third woman to come forward with allegations, says that she witnessed Kavanaugh and his friends take advantage of inebriated women at parties and that she was assaulted at one of these parties. (She did not directly say that Kavanaugh assaulted her.)

Prior to Thursday’s hearing, Kavanaugh repeatedly denied all of the allegations made against him and presented a very chaste version of himself as a teenager.

“I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship,” he said in his Fox News interview. “I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.”

To be clear, one can still go to church, perform service projects, and not have sexual intercourse, yet still commit sexual harassment or assault.

But there’s a disconnect here in that when he was a teen, Kavanaugh presented himself in a very different way, in part through a yearbook entry that appears to be rife with jokes about heavy drinking (“100 kegs or bust” and “Beach Week Ralph Club”) and sex, including “Have you boofed yet?” among others (“The Devil’s Triangle” and “Renate Alumnius”).

And on Thursday, Kavanaugh seemingly shrugged off questions about what the yearbook entry meant, or gave different explanations than his classmates might have when it came to jokes about drinking and sex. In saying that “boofing” refers to farting, Kavanaugh appeared to cast himself and Judge as more immature than nefarious or misogynistic.

He also argued that he was trying to be absurd, and blamed that absurdity in part on the yearbook’s editors.

“I think some editors and students wanted the yearbook to be some combination of Animal House, Caddyshack, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which were all recent movies at that time,” he said. “Many of us went along in the yearbook to the point of absurdity. This past week, my friends and I have cringed when we read about it and talked to each other.”

None of these “absurdities” confirm that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault, nor do they confirm that he isn’t the man he says he is. It’s possible that they were empty brags and jokes.

But even when he spoke about the yearbook entry during Thursday’s hearing, his statements rang false to many observers. In the end, regardless of what he actually meant by “Have you boofed yet?” it’s no wonder, in light of the allegations made against him, that many people searching for answers have questioned his intentions in using the term.

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