A different etymology appears in Wikipedia.
I just reverted the anonymous user's changes because they replaced a large researched etymology section with speculation, some other changes possibly worthy of keeping were lost as a consequence but I don't have the time/money to filter through it all. — Hippietrail 17:14, 25 February 2006 (UTC)
Lots of guesswork, I will leave it here for future perusal.
- Collins suggests a possible 19th century origin from back slang of fan, fanny.
- The American Heritage Dictionary goes no further than to suggest a possible dialectal origin.
- Wiktionary contributors suggest it is derived from the Polari word naph, and popularised and hence changed its spelling due to being used on the BBC radio programme Round the Horne by Julian and Sandy in the 1960s.
- The Oxford English Dictionary has no evidence before 1966. It mentions the Polari theory and others without going so far as to accept any of them without further evidence.
- Cassell's Dictionary of Slang refers to it being confused. Its etymology is confused with Not Available For Fucking in gay speak (not Polari), an unavailable man. However it is unlikely the word held both these meanings at once by the same group of people. See Cassel's Dictionary of Slang entry
- The BBC show Balderdash and Piffle disagrees with Cassell's.
- 1811 Lexicon Balatronicum lists "NIFFYNAFFY FELLOW" as "a trifler."
- 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language Samuel Johnson defines "naff" as "A tufted seabird."
- I am about to revert what is probably a folk etymology which was added recently. Naff was part of BBC Wordsearch, and I believe the quoted etymology was suggested there. However, neither OED nor World Wide Words have taken it up, so I suspect that research has shown it to be flawed; hence my reversion. Nonetheless, I leave it here in case further evidence is given to support it (and because I've heard it quoted so often, and wish it was true). British Army 1947-1949, Catterick Camp. "N.A.A.F.I" = Navy Army and Air Force Institute. A canteen on large units. A lazy, scruffy soldier was termed "NAAFI meaning "No ambition and fuck all interest" NAAFI became "naffy or naff". A term used by NCOs and royalty. --Enginear 04:28, 15 November 2011 (UTC)