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From Middle English gulf, goulf, golf, from Old French golf, from Italian golfo, from Late Latin colfos, from Ancient Greek κόλπος (kólpos, bosom, gulf), of obscure origin, but possibly from Proto-Indo-European *kʷelp- (to curve, arch).



gulf (plural gulfs)

  1. A hollow place in the earth; an abyss; a deep chasm or basin.
  2. (obsolete) That which swallows; the gullet.
  3. That which swallows irretrievably; a whirlpool; a sucking eddy.
  4. (geography) A portion of an ocean or sea extending into the land; a partially landlocked sea
    the Gulf of Mexico    the Persian Gulf
  5. (mining) A large deposit of ore in a lode.
  6. (figurative) A wide interval or gap; a separating space.
  7. (figurative) A difference, especially a large difference, between groups.
    • 2012 September 7, Phil McNulty, “Moldova 0-5 England”, in BBC Sport[1]:
      England were graphically illustrating the huge gulf in class between the sides and it was no surprise when Lampard added the second just before the half hour. Steven Gerrard found his Liverpool team-mate Glen Johnson and Lampard arrived in the area with perfect timing to glide a header beyond Namasco.
    • 2018 May 17, “Corbynomics would change Britain—but not in the way most people think”, in The Economist[2]:
      Piecing together Corbynomics is difficult, not least because it has evolved during Mr Corbyn’s time in charge of Labour. The gulf between the Labour leadership’s past positions and the milder proposals in the manifesto means that enormous uncertainty hangs over what a Corbyn-led government would do in office.
    • 2022 November 4, Fiona Harvey, “UN chief warns ‘we will be doomed’ without historic climate pact”, in The Guardian[3]:
      Rich countries must sign a “historic pact” with the poor on the climate, or “we will be doomed”, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has warned, as a deepening gulf between the developed and developing world has put climate talks on the brink.
    • 2023 August 7, Nesrine Malik, “British people are kinder and less divided than politicians give us credit for”, in The Guardian[4]:
      The result is a widening gulf between people’s reality and what they are relentlessly told they actually believe in and care about.
  8. (Oxbridge slang) The bottom part of a list of those awarded a degree, for those who have only just passed.
    • 1852, Charles Astor Bristed, Five Years in an English University, page 205:
      Some ten or fifteen men just on the line, not enough to be plucked or good enough to be placed, are put into the "gulf," as it is popularly called (the Examiners' phrase is "Degrees allowed"), and have their degrees given to them but are not printed in the calendar, nor were they at this time allowed to try for the Classical Tripos.


Derived terms[edit]



gulf (third-person singular simple present gulfs, present participle gulfing, simple past and past participle gulfed)

  1. (Oxbridge slang, transitive) To award a degree to somebody who has only just passed sufficiently.
    • 1852, Charles Astor Bristed, Five Years in an English University, pages 228–229:
      The mention of gulfed and plucked men brings me back to myself.
    • 1863, Henry Kingsley, Austin Elliot, page 123:
      The good Professor scolded, predicted that they would all be either gulfed or ploughed.
    • 1876, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, The life and Letters of Lord Macaulay[5], volume 1, page 83:
      Everyone who knows the Senate House may anticipate the result. When the Tripos of 1822 made its appearance his name did not grace the list. In short, to use the expressive vocabulary of the university, Macaulay was gulfed:—a mishap which disabled him from contending for the Chancellor's medals, then the crowning trophies of a classical career.