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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English gaffolle, a borrowing from Middle Dutch gaffel, gafel (fork), ultimately from Proto-West Germanic *gabulu (fork), related to Old English gafol, ġeafel (fork).


gaffle (plural gaffles)

  1. (obsolete) A lever used to bend a crossbow.
  2. A steel spur attached to a gamecock (sometimes used figuratively).
    • 1860, George Palmer Putnam, Popping the Question: And Other Tales, page 295:
      These birds, having been some time previous bereft of the weapons nature designed for their defence, are now fornished with gaffles, or artificial spurs, each of which is a polished steel blade , about three inches in length, half an inch wide at the base, curved slightly upwards, sharp at the point and on the upper edge, and firmly fastened to the leg by means of a clasp.
    • 1880, Frederick Metcalfe, The Englishman and the Scandinavian, page 169:
      One sits with a harp at his lord's feet; another tames the wild hawk and trains him, teaches him with his little gaffles till the Welsh bird becomes docile.
    • 1906, William Cowper Brann, Brann, the Iconoclast, page 319:
      Conkling and Me Too Platt, by putting the gaffles into President Garfield, ruptured the Republican party from narrative to neckband, and the Democrats won in a walk.
  3. (historical, weaponry) A portable fork of iron or wood in which the heavy musket formerly in use was rested that it might be accurately aimed and fired.


gaffle (third-person singular simple present gaffles, present participle gaffling, simple past and past participle gaffled)

  1. To equip with a gaffle or similar weapon.
    • 1854, Herman Melville., The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles:
      Now, sword or dagger, human arms are but artifical claws and fangs, tied on like false spurs to the fighting cock. So, we repeat, Oberlus, czar of the isle, gaffles his four subjects; that is, with intent of glory, puts four rusty cutlasses into their hands.
    • 1889, J. M. Wilson, Wilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, page 39:
      Blood doth not follow the law of the mountain stream, by getting more muddy as it descends; neither are men and women of the nature of the gaffled cocks we use to fight at the mains on the Inch of Perth, which send down their fighting propensities to the tenth gallinaccous generation.
    • 1891, Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, Men and Events of Forty Years, page 62:
      He earned my contempt by carrying a pistol and drawing it on Senator Benton (known to be unarmed) in the Chamber, like a gaffled fowl in a cock-pit waiting provocation.
    • 2003, Jennie Holliman, American Sports, 1785-1835, page 126:
      Gentlemen took great interest in the management of the cock, the skill of gaffling, the science of feeding and grooming, and the expertness in handling the fowl.

Etymology 2[edit]

Blend of gaff +‎ grapple.


gaffle (third-person singular simple present gaffles, present participle gaffling, simple past and past participle gaffled)

  1. To grab or seize
    • 1949, Chase Salmon Osborn, Stellanova Osborn, Northwoods Sketches, page 29:
      They would grapple till they were tired, then stop; but as soon as one would start for the bears the other would gaffle him again.
    • 1951, Modern Power & Engineering - Volume 45, page 126:
      Just as he was going to throw the plug into the box, Jimmy's huge paw reached out and gaffled it.
    • 1966, Will R. Davis, Zackary Adams, Village Down East, page 79:
      The nurse kep cool enough, but the menfolks fretted some; and the two ole hairpins gaffled holt of one another and plumped down onto their knees, prayin' for “deliv'rance from desaster !"
  2. To get hold of, to find.
    • 1905, Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards, The Armstrongs, page 197:
      Ye see, he knew there wasn't barely enough grazing for him on that oasis, and a short supply of dates for me, and he had gaffled onto that place and warn't going to let go for no black feller nor yet yeller.
    • 1939, American Magazine - Volume 127, page 147:
      "Clever of ye," said Scattergood. "Naow, about Marjie's money. How'd ye manage to gaffle onto that?"
    • 1950, Detective Book Club Selections - Volume 57, page 110:
      "I gaffled onto Kate,” Mrs. Swain said. "Oh, wonderful! How ever did you find her ?”
    • 1974, The Hilltopper, page 191:
      Anyone who would like to share your burdens or want to know more about Christ, you are welcome to come to our Tuesday and Friday, and Sunday night bible studies or just gaffle one of the brothers on the yard.
  3. To arrest for criminal activity.
    • 1953, Tom Runyon, In for Life, a Convict's Story, page 9696:
      Most forgers were “drunken checkers," men who had forged checks at taverns, although now and then someone would arrive who had hung a great deal of paper before getting gaffled.
    • 1971, Robert J. Minton, Inside; Prison American Style, page 204:
      Ole Rooster, one of our best analytical minds and alleged phantom mover of The Outlaw, was gaffled up of a sudden and bussed out — not before he'd gotten his beautiful layout of info on the indeterminate sentencing law off to Cleaver's attorneys, though.
    • 1994, Eugene P. Delorme, Inez Cardozo-Freeman, Chief: The Life History of Eugene Delorme, page 83:
      They come on down, man, gaffled me up and put the cuffs on my hands.
    • 1999, Rap Pages - Volume 8, page 48:
      Just as things appear to be coming together, a predawn, no-knock raid surprises you, and vile, profanity-slanging soldiers from the enemy culture invade your space, gaffle you and haul you off to a cage.
  4. To steal
    • 1906, Hunter-trader-trapper - Volume 10, page 73:
      I presume that one of them walked out to the back end to see if any one had been trespassing, and finding my trap had gaffled it.
    • 2012, Jessica Fletcher, Donald Bain, Murder, She Wrote: Domestic Malice:
      “That hooligan gaffled my wallet,” Seth told Mort, his breathing now back to near normal.
  5. To swindle or bully (someone)
    • 1958, René Albert Wormser, Foundations, Their Power and Influence, page 363:
      In other words , you know the trouble around here — and this is pertinent , too — that there have been too many committees in which the minority has allowed itself to be gaffled into submission and silence.
    • 1994, North eastern reporter. second series - Volume 623, page 76:
      They then stole a maroon Oldsmobile Delta Eighty-Eight from a parking lot on Harvard Avenue and resumed their search for a victim to “gaffle."
    • 2004, Harry Justin Elam, Robert Alexander, The Fire this Time: African-American Plays for the 21st Century, page 410:
      SHEILA: I'm late — 'cause I just got gaffled G ROC (Overlapping): Got gaffled?! Whatchu mean you got gaffled?!
    • 2008, Jeffery Renard Allen, Holding Pattern: Stories, page 226:
      Boo savored the sweetness of strength and gaffled his peers for their lunch money.
    • 2012, Kresley Cole, Poison Princess, page 149:
      I thought back to the last time I'd seen my first and only boyfriend, recalling his smile as he'd gone off to do battle for me, saving me from getting gaffled.
    • 2015, Douglas Meriwether, The Dao of Doug 2: the Art of Driving a Bus, page 154:
      There really are no paying customers with any sense of good, orderly direction going to any perceivable destination with purpose, except to sponge off of others or to gaffle intending drug buyers.
  6. To talk without a purpose, usually about inane or pointless topics; to babble.
    • 1916, Holman Day, Up in Maine: Stories of Yankee Life Told in Verse, page 189:
      So I commenced to yell, And old man Pease he hugged his knees and gaffled to his pail.
    • 1987, Seán Virgo, Selakhi, page 157:
      The honey birds gaffleI'm coming to you soon, I'm coming to you as they leave , and one insect starts to call, and will call all night, with the exact monotonous cheep-cheep of young English house-sparrows in June.
    • 2011, Hakim Askia, Compelling Thoughts, page 125:
      Leaving that to the rappers, it's their business But to be down or not to be down Is still debatable for plausible reasons For one seldom knows the directions others are traveling in Or if one-time wants to do some gaffling
Related terms[edit]


  • OED 2nd edition 1989 (noun sense)