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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.

The underwear sense apparently derives from the idea that the garment tricks or deceives others about the wearer's genitalia.

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gaff (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. (LGBT) A type of tight, panty-like underwear worn to hold the male genitalia tucked backwards and make one's genital region look smooth, as if one had a vulva.
    • 1964, Kenneth Marlowe, Mr. Madam: Confessions of a Male Madam[1], Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, →LCCN, page 17:
      This may sound strange to readers who know little about nudes but many female impersonators, or femme-mimics, work au naturel—except for a gaff, a bra, body makeup, jewelry, and a wig (on their head). See! Semi-nude!!
    • 1996, Christina Abernathy, Miss Abernathy's Concise Slave Training Manual[2], San Francisco: Greenery Press, →ISBN, page 35:
      Sissy maids may be required to wear a gaff to disguise the male genitals, and a dominant may wish a slave to wear it on a daily basis.
    • 2006, Richard Ekins, Dave King, The Transgender Phenomenon, Sage Publications, →ISBN, page 227:
      Vicky is a pre-operative MTF transsexual [] Wearing feminine underwear over her gaff in bed helps her to redefine her absence of female genitalia during sex (sexuality) in terms of it being her 'time of the month', as she jokes to Sean [her first boyfriend].
Derived terms[edit]


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, number 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[3], archived from the original on 20 February 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). Compare Old English gafettung (scoffing, mockery, derision).



  1. Rough or harsh treatment; criticism.
    • 1916, Edgar Rice Burrows, Beyond Thirty (aka The Lost Continent)[4], 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. (Ireland; Britain, especially Manchester, Cockney and Glaswegian; slang) A place of residence.
    We're going round to Mike's gaff later to watch the footie.
    • 1971, Richard Carpenter, Catweazle and the Magic Zodiac, Harmondsworth: Puffin Books, page 56:
      "Steady on, mate. How was I to know this was your gaff? I was lookin' for somewhere to kip."
    • 1993, Tristan Hawkins, Pepper, London: Flamingo, →ISBN, page 106:
      And like I said, I was so fuck-faced that I forgot I'd moved and let myself back into my old gaff.
    • 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[5], 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, “The Godfather”, Ink (lyrics)‎[6], 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)[7]:
      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 […]
  2. (UK, slang, dated) A disreputable, low-end theatre.
    Hyponym: penny gaff
    • 2004, Kerry Powell, The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre, page 273:
      Significantly, the setting is a gaff, a low, illegal theatre, and not one of the legitimate East-End stages.

Etymology 4[edit]


gaff (uncountable)

  1. (informal, uncountable) Clipping of gaffer tape.
    She bought a roll of black gaff to tape down the loose cords.