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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
    • 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 228727437, 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, The Travels of a Hindoo to Various Parts of Bengal and Upper India:
      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 George Blomefield Russell, editor, The Letters of William Blake:
      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 The Atlantic:
      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:
      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 Dallas Morning News:
      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”, in The Observer:
      [...] a master manipulator who will twist and dodge around the clock to keep the privileges of power and pelf.
  2. (uncountable, dated) Rubbish, trash; specifically (Britain, dialectal) refuse from plants.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:trash
  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–present.
  3. ^ pelf, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2005; “pelf, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.

Further reading[edit]