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From Middle English distaf, from Old English distæf (distaff), from Old English *dis- (bunch of flax) (cognate with Middle Low German dise (bunch of flax on a distaff)) + Old English stæf (staff).



distaff (plural distaffs)

  1. A device to which a bundle of natural fibres (often wool, flax, or cotton) are attached for temporary storage, before being drawn off gradually to spin thread. A traditional distaff is a staff with flax fibres tied loosely to it (see Etymology), but modern distaffs are often made of cords weighted with beads, and attached to the wrist.
  2. The part of a spinning wheel from which fibre is drawn to be spun.
  3. Anything traditionally done by or considered of importance to women only.
  4. A woman, or women considered as a group.
    • Dryden
      His crown usurped, a distaff on the throne.
    • Howell
      Some say the crozier, some say the distaff was too busy.



distaff (not comparable)

  1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of women.
  2. Of the maternal side of a family.
    • 1892, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Noble Bachelor”, in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes[1], HTML edition, The Gutenberg Project, published 2011:
      They inherit Plantagenet blood by direct descent, and Tudor on the distaff side.



  • (of, relating to, or characteristic of women): male, paternal


Derived terms[edit]