noun Nautical.

the forward edge of a fore-and-aft sail.

verb (used without object)

to bring the head of a sailing ship closer to or directly into the wind, with sails shaking.
(of a sail) to shake from being set too close to the wind: The sail luffed as we put about for port.
to raise or lower the outer end of the boom of a crane or derrick so as to move its load horizontally.

verb (used with object)

to set (the helm of a ship) in such a way as to bring the head of the ship into the wind.
to raise or lower the outer end of (the boom of a crane or derrick).

Origin of luff

1175–1225; Middle English lof, loof steering gear (compare Old French lof) < Middle Dutch (unrecorded), later Dutch loef tholepin (of tiller)
Related formsun·luffed, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for luff

Historical Examples of luff

  • It is probable the enemy did not keep his luff, towards the last, on account of the land.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • And they did, me staying aboard the Hattie to luff her for them to get away.

    Sonnie-Boy's People

    James B. Connolly

  • Love, Luff, occurs generally as a personal name, hence the dim.

    The Romance of Names

    Ernest Weekley

  • "Luff a little," he added, as he discovered the dim outline of the shore.

    In School and Out

    Oliver Optic

  • They did not dare to luff her to the west or bear her away to the east.

    Heroes of the Goodwin Sands

    Thomas Stanley Treanor

British Dictionary definitions for luff



nautical the leading edge of a fore-and-aft sail


tackle consisting of a single and a double block for use with rope having a large diameter


nautical to head (a sailing vessel) into the wind so that her sails flap
(intr) nautical (of a sail) to flap when the wind is blowing equally on both sides
to move the jib of (a crane) or raise or lower the boom of (a derrick) in order to shift a load

Word Origin for luff

C13 (in the sense: steering gear): from Old French lof, perhaps from Middle Dutch loef peg of a tiller; compare Old High German laffa palm of hand, oar blade, Russian lapa paw
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 luff

c.1200, in sailing, from Old French lof "spar," or some other nautical device, "point of sail," also "windward side," probably from Germanic (cf. Middle Dutch lof "windward side of a ship" (Dutch loef), which might also be the direct source of the English word), from Proto-Germanic *lofo (cf. Old Norse lofi, Gothic lofa "palm of the hand," Danish lab, Swedish labb "paw"), from PIE *lep- "to be flat" (see glove). As a verb from late 14c., from the noun.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper