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  1. an iron hook with a handle for landing large fish.
  2. the spur on a climbing iron, especially as used by telephone linemen.
  3. Nautical. a spar rising aft from a mast to support the head of a quadrilateral fore-and-aft sail (gaff sail).
  4. a metal spur for a gamecock.
verb (used with object)
  1. to hook or land (a fish) with a gaff.

Origin of gaff1

1275–1325; Middle English < Middle French gaffe, gaff < Provençal gaf hook, gaff, noun derivative of gafar to seize (compare Medieval Latin gaffare), probably < Germanic (Visigothic) *gaff-, perhaps derivative from base of Gothic giban give
Can be confusedgaff gaffe


  1. harsh treatment or criticism: All the gaff he took never made him bitter.
  1. stand/take the gaff, Slang. to weather hardship or strain; endure patiently.

Origin of gaff2

1895–1900, Americanism; compare earlier British use: nonsense, humbug, Scots dial.: loud laugh, guffaw; of uncertain origin; cf. guff


verb (used with object)
  1. Slang. to cheat; fleece.
verb (used without object)
  1. British Slang. to gamble, especially to indulge in petty gambling, as to toss coins.

Origin of gaff3

First recorded in 1745–55; origin uncertain
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for gaff

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • A mainsail carried by a gaff has two halyards, the throat and peak.

    Boys' Book of Model Boats

    Raymond Francis Yates

  • In an hour and five minutes I brought him to gaff—a small fish.

  • When Dan lunged with the gaff the tuna made a tremendous splash that deluged us.

  • Billy,” the skipper ordered, “get forward with a gaff and keep him off.

  • Used aboard yachts for bending on the gaff topsail halliards.

    Boy Scouts Handbook

    Boy Scouts of America

British Dictionary definitions for gaff


  1. angling a stiff pole with a stout prong or hook attached for landing large fish
  2. nautical a boom hoisted aft of a mast to support a gaffsail
  3. a metal spur fixed to the leg of a gamecock
verb (tr)
  1. angling to hook or land (a fish) with a gaff
  2. slang to cheat; hoax

Word Origin

C13: from French gaffe, from Provençal gaf boathook


  1. slang foolish talk; nonsense
  2. blow the gaff British slang to divulge a secret
  3. stand the gaff slang, mainly US and Canadian to endure ridicule, difficulties, etc

Word Origin

C19: of unknown origin


noun British slang, archaic
  1. a person's home, esp a flat
  2. Also called: penny-gaff a cheap or low-class place of entertainment, esp a cheap theatre or music hall in Victorian England

Word Origin

C18: of unknown origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for gaff


"iron hook," c.1300, gaffe, from Old French gaffe "boat hook" (see gaffe). Specifically of the hook on a fishing spear from 1650s.


"loud, rude talk," 1825, from Scottish dialect, perhaps a survival of Old English gafspræc "blasphemous or ribald speech," or from gaff (n.1), and cf. gaffe.


"cheap music hall or theater; place of amusement for the lowest classes," 1850s, British slang, earlier "a fair" (1753), of unknown origin.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with gaff


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.