At the beginning of the 20th century, it was most likely that the insult used would be “bookworm” (or, for women, a “bluestocking”).
Then in the 1930s and 1940s, thinkers were increasingly told that they lived in “ivory towers”, and by 1960, also had a decent chance of being labelled an “egghead”.
As the IT revolution, video game culture and personal computers took off in the 1980s, the obsessively cerebral were “geeks” or “nerds” – although these are no longer really serious terms of abuse.
“Boffin” has always remained a niche choice, but has enjoyed slow, steady growth since the middle of the century.
The results were created using the Google Ngram tool, which scours a vast corpus of books to find how often different words are used.