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Etymology 1[edit]

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

Alternative forms[edit]

  • gaffe (minor error or faux pas)


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.
  2. A minor error or faux pas, a gaffe.
    We politely ignored his gaff.
  3. A trick or con.
    The sideshow feat was a just a gaff, but the audience was too proud to admit they'd been fooled.
    • 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]”[1], The Daily Telegraph, 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.
  4. (nautical) The upper spar used to control a gaff-rigged sail.
  5. A garment worn to hide the genitals by some trans people.


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

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.

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 gāw ‎(village) (cognate German Kaff ‎(village)).


gaff ‎(plural gaffs)

  1. (Britain, chiefly Manchester and Cockney, Ireland, slang) A place of residence.
    We're going round to Mike's gaff later to watch the footie.


  • Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, gaff
  • New Oxford American Dictionary, gaff[2]
  • A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, gaff[10]