It’s an odd reference, “His Nibs.” But I hear it quite often and thought I would do my research on it to find out where it comes from, and exactly what it means.

I mean, I’m usually good with context and could tell when hearing it that it was more of a derogatory statement, not meant to be very flattering. So off I went to Google my way through to the knowledge I needed.

Interestingly enough, the term is always described as being “of unknown origin.” In short, it’s something you call someone who thinks very highly of himself. Thanks to World Wide Word, I found an excellent explanation:

This is a mock title used to refer to a self-important man, especially one in authority. It is modelled after the pattern of references to the British aristocracy, such as his lordship. Most sources say something like “origin obscure”. It is first recorded in print about 1820, but is presumably older. There is some evidence that nibs is a variant form of nabs, and that both may have their origin in the ancient word neb, meaning a beak or nose, or more generally, the protruding bit of anything (our word for the business end of a pen comes from the same root). Also, nib itself was once used as a slang term for a gentleman, as was another old slang word still to be heard, nob, and these could very probably be connected. Several early examples of the latter are spelled nab and his nabs is a variant recorded form of his nibs. It seems the vowel was highly fluid, not surprising considering the different dialects and periods it has come through. Perhaps the association with supposed social superiors may have something to do with people so elevated in self-importance that they “have their noses in the air”?

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