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See also: Gaff


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  • IPA(key): /ɡæf/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -æf

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English gaffe, from Old French gaffe, from Old Occitan gaf (hook), derivative of gafar (to seize), from Gothic 𐌲𐌰𐍆𐍆- (gaff-) derived from 𐌲𐌹𐌱𐌰𐌽 (giban, to give). Doublet of gaffe.

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gaff (countable and uncountable, plural gaffs)

  1. A tool consisting of a large metal hook with a handle or pole, especially the one used to pull large fish aboard a boat.
    Synonym: hakapik
    • 1997, Mark Kurlansky, Cod: a Biography of the Fish That Changed the World:
      When Leonard finally hauls up a cod of seventy-five centimeters, probably seven years old, a typical catch ten years ago, they all joke, "Oh my God, get the gaff!"
  2. A minor error or faux pas, a gaffe.
    We politely ignored his gaff.
  3. A trick or con.
    The sideshow feat was just a gaff, but the audience was too proud to admit they'd been fooled.
  4. (nautical) The upper spar used to control a gaff-rigged sail.
  5. A garment worn to hide the genitals.
  6. (informal, uncountable) Clipping of gaffer tape.
    She bought a roll of black gaff to tape down the loose cords.


gaff (third-person singular simple present gaffs, present participle gaffing, simple past and past participle gaffed)

  1. To use a gaff, especially to land a fish.
  2. To cheat or hoax.
  3. (transitive) To doctor or modify for deceptive purposes.
    • 1993, Betty Lou Wolfe, ‎Marian Jean Gray, The Way We Were: Reflections from the 1930's (page 23)
      When the operator began losing, he gaffed the wheel and then the patron had no chance to win. With his secret device an experienced grifter could stop the wheel at will on any number.
    • 1977, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (volume 46, issue 9, page 8)
      However, this apathy will quickly disappear if it is learned the friendly game involves marked (gaffed) cards.
    • 1989, Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends (page 96)
      You will be using gaffed cards: a double faced card.
  4. (slang) To gamble.
  5. (transitive, informal) To affix gaffer tape to, or cover with gaffer tape.
    • 2013 July 19, Kai-Huei Yau, “Shoot before you dye”, in Tri-City Herald[1], archived from the original on February 20, 2020:
      I gaffed down the sleeves to my lens hoods instead of just relying on the drawstring to hold it in place.

Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

Perhaps from Old English gafsprǣc (buffoonery, scurrility; blasphemous or ribald speech), from Old English gaf (base, vile, lewd) + Old English sprǣc (language, speech, talk)



  1. Rough or harsh treatment; criticism.
    • 1916, Edgar Rice Burrows, Beyond Thirty (aka The Lost Continent)[2], HTML edition, The Gutenberg Project, published 2008:
      "Numbers one, two, and five engines have broken down, sir," he called. "Shall we force the remaining three?" / "We can do nothing else," I bellowed into the transmitter. / "They won't stand the gaff, sir," he returned. / "Can you suggest a better plan?" I asked. / "No, sir," he replied. / "Then give them the gaff, lieutenant," I shouted back, and hung up the receiver.
  2. (dated) An outcry; nonsense.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

Unknown. Possibly from Etymology 1, via a sense of “a place that will be robbed” in criminal argot; possibly from Etymology 2, via a sense of "cheap theatre"; possibly from Romani gav (village) (whence German Kaff (village)).

Alternative forms[edit]


gaff (plural gaffs)

  1. (Britain, especially Manchester and Cockney, Ireland, slang, Glaswegian) A place of residence.
    We're going round to Mike's gaff later to watch the footie.
    • 2015 April 4, Judith Woods, “I knew it! Spring cleaning is bad for your family's health [print version: Vindicated at last! It's healthier to be a slatternly housewife, p. 28]”, in The Daily Telegraph[3], archived from the original on 9 April 2015:
      Am I alone in feeling smug (if slatternly) about the news that super-clean homes are a breeding ground for infection? Apparently, all that bleach is bad not just for germs but for children's immune systems, too, and paradoxically causes more disease than it prevents. Not round my gaff. Oh no. My standards of housekeeping are so abysmally low that my eldest daughter was three years old before she even developed a temperature.
    • 2019 April 30, Ink (lyrics), “The Godfather”‎[4], 0:37–0:40:
      Man will enter the gaf with crown
      Gun shot spin his head right round
    • 2019 November 7, Erike Sanker, “20 mad Dublin slang phrases that only make sense to locals”, in Ireland Before You Die (IB4UD)[5]:
      The term ‘free gaf’ is music to any teenage ears in Dublin, while the term ‘wreak the gaf’ should fill any parent with dread. The term ‘gaf’ means ‘house,’ so when parents are away […]