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)
- 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.
- The part of a spinning wheel from which fibre is drawn to be spun.
- Anything traditionally done by or considered of importance to women only.
- A woman, or women considered as a group.
- His crown usurped, a distaff on the throne.
- Some say the crozier, some say the distaff was too busy.
distaff (not comparable)
- Of, relating to, or characteristic of women.
- Of the maternal side of a family.
1892, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Noble Bachelor”, in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, HTML edition, The Gutenberg Project, published 2011:
- They inherit Plantagenet blood by direct descent, and Tudor on the distaff side.