Origin of stiff

before 1000; Middle English (adj. and adv.); Old English stīf; cognate with German steif; akin to stifle1, steeve1
Related formsstiff·ish, adjectivestiff·ly, adverbstiff·ness, nouno·ver·stiff, adjectiveo·ver·stiff·ly, adverbo·ver·stiff·ness, nounsem·i·stiff, adjectivesem·i·stiff·ly, adverbsem·i·stiff·ness, nounun·stiff, adjectiveun·stiff·ly, adverbun·stiff·ness, noun

Synonyms for stiff

1. unbending, unyielding. See firm1. 6. unrelenting, resolved, obstinate, pertinacious. 9. reserved, constrained, starched, prim. 10. graceless, inelegant.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for stiffer

Contemporary Examples of stiffer

Historical Examples of stiffer

  • He's last in ten jumps, that's what he is: stiffer'n a board!

    Old Man Curry

    Charles E. (Charles Emmett) Van Loan

  • Should he find them all colder, stiffer, haughtier than ever?

    Luttrell Of Arran

    Charles James Lever

  • And he let them alone, like figures of stone,For he could not make them stiffer.

  • The stiffer the breeze and the more sail there is, the more she careens.


    George Manville Fenn

  • Now I am sure you couldn't have made it any stiffer in your own rooms.

    The Woman in Black

    Edmund Clerihew Bentley

British Dictionary definitions for stiffer



not easily bent; rigid; inflexible
not working or moving easily or smoothlya stiff handle
difficult to accept in its severity or harshnessa stiff punishment
moving with pain or difficulty; not supplea stiff neck
difficult; arduousa stiff climb
unrelaxed or awkward; formal
firmer than liquid in consistency; thick or viscous
powerful; stronga stiff breeze; a stiff drink
excessively higha stiff price
nautical (of a sailing vessel) relatively resistant to heeling or rollingCompare tender 1 (def. 11)
lacking grace or attractiveness
stubborn or stubbornly maintaineda stiff fight
obsolete tightly stretched; taut
slang, mainly Australian unlucky
slang intoxicated
stiff upper lip See lip (def. 9)
stiff with informal amply provided with


slang a corpse
slang anything thought to be a loser or a failure; flop


completely or utterlybored stiff; frozen stiff


(intr) slang to failthe film stiffed
(tr) slang, mainly US to cheat or swindle
(tr) slang to kill
Derived Formsstiffish, adjectivestiffly, adverbstiffness, noun

Word Origin for stiff

Old English stīf; related to Old Norse stīfla to dam up, Middle Low German stīf stiff, Latin stīpēs wooden post, stīpāre to press
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 stiffer



Old English stif "rigid, inflexible," from Proto-Germanic *stifaz "inflexible" (cf. Dutch stijf, Old High German stif, German steif "stiff;" Old Norse stifla "choke"), from PIE *stipos-, from root *steip- "press together, pack, cram" (cf. Sanskrit styayate "coagulates," stima "slow;" Greek stia, stion "small stone," steibo "press together;" Latin stipare "pack down, press," stipes "post, tree trunk;" Lithuanian stipti "stiffen," stiprus "strong;" Old Church Slavonic stena "wall"). Of battles and competitions, from mid-13c.; of liquor, from 1813. To keep a stiff upper lip is attested from 1815.



"corpse," 1859, slang, from stiff (adj.) which had been associated with notion of rigor mortis since c.1200. Meaning "working man" first recorded 1930, from earlier genitive sense of "contemptible person" (1882). Slang meaning "something or someone bound to lose" is 1890 (originally of racehorses), from notion of "corpse."



"fail to tip," 1939, originally among restaurant and hotel workers, probably from stiff (n.) in slang sense of "corpse" (corpses don't tip well, either). Extended by 1950 to "cheat."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with stiffer


In addition to the idioms beginning with stiff

  • stiff as a board
  • stiff upper lip

also see:

  • bore to death (stiff)
  • keep a stiff upper lip
  • scare out of one's wits (stiff)
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.