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From Late Middle English pelf, pelfe (stolen goods, booty, spoil; forfeited property; money, riches; property; valuable object),[1] possibly from Anglo-Norman pelf (a variant of pelfre (booty, loot)) and Old French peufre (frippery; rubbish); further etymology uncertain, possibly a metathesis of Old French felpe, ferpe, frepe (a rag).[2] The English word is perhaps related to Late Latin pelfa, pelfra, pelfrum (forfeited or stolen goods), Middle French peuffe and French peufe, peuffe (old clothes; rubbish) (Normandy), and pilfer.[3]



pelf (countable and uncountable, plural pelfs)

  1. (uncountable, chiefly derogatory, dated) Money, riches; gain, especially when dishonestly acquired; lucre, mammon.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:acquisition, Thesaurus:booty, Thesaurus:money
    • 1599 (first performance; published 1600), Thomas Dekker, “The Shomakers Holiday. Or The Gentle Craft. []”, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker [], volume I, London: John Pearson [], published 1873, →OCLC, Act V, scene ii, page 66:
      Raph. Sirra Hammon Hammon, dost thou thinke a shooe-maker is so base, to be a bawd to his own wife for cõmodity! take thy gold, choake with it: were I not lame, I would make thee eate thy words.
      Firke. A shoomaker sell his flesh and blood, oh indignitie!
      Hodg. Sirra, take up your pelfe, and be packing.
    • 1638, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], “Φιλαργυρία [Philarguría] Covetousnesse a Cause”, in The Anatomy of Melancholy. [], 5th edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Printed [by Robert Young, Miles Flesher, and Leonard Lichfield and William Turner] for Henry Cripps, →OCLC, partition 1, section 2, member 3, subsection 12, page 115:
      For what greater folly can there be, or madneſſe, then to [] keepe backe from his wife and children, neither letting them, nor other friends uſe or enjoy that which is theirs by right, and which they much need perhaps; like a hog, or dog in the manger, he doth onely keep it, becauſe it ſhall doe no body elſe good, hurting himſelfe and others; and for a little momentary pelfe, damne his owne ſoule.
    • 1681, [John Dryden], Absalom and Achitophel. A Poem. [], 3rd edition, London: [] J[acob] T[onson] and are to be sold by W. Davis [], published 1682, →OCLC, page 16:
      During his Office, Treaſon was no Crime. / The Sons of Belial had a Glorious Time: / For Shimei, though not prodigal of pelf, / Yet lov'd his wicked Neighbour as himſelf.
    • 1869, Bholanauth Chunder, chapter VIII, in The Travels of a Hindoo to Various Parts of Bengal and Upper India. [], volume I, London: N[icholas] Trübner & Co., [], →OCLC, page 411:
      The inscriptions on the walls are homilies from the Koran—actual 'sermons in stones'. The inlaid characters in diamond, and other precious stones, have been all abstracted away by the pelf-loving Jaut and Mahratta—leaving the walls defaced with the hollow marks of the chisel.
    • 1906, Frederick Tatham, “Life of Blake”, in Archibald G[eorge] B[lomefield] Russell, editor, The Letters of William Blake [], London: Methuen & Co. [], →OCLC, pages 28–29:
      But, sighing after his fancies and visionary pursuits, he rebelled and fled fifty miles away for refuge from the lace caps and powdered wigs of his priggish sitters, and resumed his quaint dreams and immeasurable phantasies, never more to forsake them for pelf and portraiture.
    • 1934, Dale Wimbrow, The Guy in the Glass:
      When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf, and the world makes you King for a day, / Then go to the mirror and look at yourself, and see what that guy has to say.
    • 1968 October, Nicholas von Hoffman, “The Class of ’43 is Puzzled”, in Robert Manning, editor, The Atlantic[1], Washington, D.C.: The Atlantic Monthly Group, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 26 November 2020:
      Some of the rich classmates were keeping their pelf to themselves.
    • 1987 April 27, Ford S. Worthy, “You’re Probably Working Too Hard”, in Fortune[2], New York, N.Y.: Time Inc., →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 1 July 2021:
      In advertising, show business, and journalism, people work themselves to the nub for glitz and glory more than for pelf.
    • 1997 July 20, Harriet P. Gross, “Author roots her stories in Vietnam War”, in The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Tex.: A. H. Belo Corporation, →ISSN, →OCLC:
      She writes about those she might have known first-hand: teenage girls cowering in bunkers … friends making promises they can never keep … rich folk fattened on wartime pelf, poor folk surviving by wit alone.
    • 2000 February 20, Nick Cohen, “Without prejudice: Who trusts Mandy?”, in The Observer[3], London: Guardian News & Media, archived from the original on 9 May 2014:
      Every wised-up wit who mistakes knowingness for knowledge proclaims that Peter Mandelson is a gutless fixer; a master manipulator who will twist and dodge around the clock to keep the privileges of power and pelf. [] If only the idle stereotype were true.
  2. (uncountable, dated) Rubbish, trash; specifically (Britain, dialectal) refuse from plants.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:trash
    • 1638, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], “Exercise Rectified of Body and Minde”, in The Anatomy of Melancholy. [], 5th edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Printed [by Robert Young, Miles Flesher, and Leonard Lichfield and William Turner] for Henry Cripps, →OCLC, partition 2, section 2, member 4, page 282:
      Now for women, in ſtead of laborious ſtudies, they have curious, needleworkes, Cut-workes, ſpinning, bone-lace, and many prettie deviſes of their owne making, to adorne their houſes, [] Which to her gueſts ſhe ſhews, with all her pelfe, / Thus far my maides, but this I did my ſelf.
  3. (uncountable, Southwest England) Dust; fluff.
  4. (countable, Yorkshire, derogatory) A contemptible or useless person.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:worthless person
    Antonyms: see Thesaurus:important person

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



  1. ^ pelf(e, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ frippery, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1898; “frippery, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  3. ^ pelf, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2005; “pelf, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]