Now, the VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR
STORIES. Today we tell about the word "buff."
word buff has several meanings. Buff is
a light yellow color. Buff is also a
soft cloth used to rub a surface until it looks bright and shiny.
these meanings are old, and their history is not known. The meaning of buff that we do know about is
one that describes a person. A buff is
someone who has a strong, special interest in something. For example, someone who loves jazz music is
a jazz buff. Someone who is deeply
interested in the American Civil War is a Civil War buff.
meaning of the word is known to be American.
Its use started almost two-hundred years ago in New York City.
that time, New York was a growing city.
There were no huge tall buildings of steel and stone. Buildings then were made of wood and
brick. Many were old and fires often
broke out in them. The city did not have
well-organized fire departments. So when
the fire alarm bell rang, men near the sound of the fire bell dropped what they
were doing and rushed out to fight the fire.
fire companies were organized with men who were trained to fight fires. They were not paid to do this. They earned their money at other jobs, but
dropped what they were doing when the fire bell rang.
cold weather, many of these young volunteer firefighters wore coats made of the
skin of buffalo to keep them warm and dry.
Often, when the fire bell rang, other men in the city rushed to help put
out the fire. They also wore coats of
buffalo skin. In time, any man who
rushed to fight a fire became known as a fire buff because of the buffalo coat
however, has a way of bringing changes.
Cities organized fire departments.
Firemen became professionals.
They are paid to do their job.
Yet, even today, we still have fire buffs who seem to
appear at every fire in an area.
Sometimes they prevent firemen from doing their jobs.
New York newspaper published a story with the headline, "Fire Buffs Barred From
Blaze." The story was about an order
from New York's fire commissioner. He
was angry. He told reporters that his
firefighters were having trouble getting near the fire, because fire buffs who
wanted to help were really getting in the way.
So, he said, he did not want anyone but firefighters to go to a fire.
are still around, but the word has taken on a wider meaning. It includes all who have a deep interest in
something or some activity. And so we
can thank the American buffalo that once wandered the open plains for this
meaning of the word buff.
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program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES. I'm