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 luffing

Historical Examples of luffing

  • After luffing to pick him up, the brigantine had been again pulled off on the port tack.

    The Black Bag

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • I know he is; but in the other race, he lost half his time by luffing up in a squall.

    The Yacht Club

    Oliver Optic

  • After the start do not go in for a luffing match or allow yourself to be luffed by a yacht you do not fear.

  • Scarcely had he spoken, when the French frigate, luffing up, ran her bows against the quarter of the Isabel.

    The Heir of Kilfinnan

    W.H.G. Kingston

  • You must learn how to help her with the helm to take these seas easily, first by luffing and then by bearing away.

    On Yacht Sailing

    Thomas Fleming Day

British Dictionary definitions for luffing



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 luffing



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