from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A staff that holds on its cleft end the unspun flax, wool, or tow from which thread is drawn in spinning by hand.
  • n. An attachment for a spinning wheel that serves this purpose.
  • n. Work and concerns traditionally considered important to women.
  • n. Women considered as a group.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. of, relating to, or characteristic of women
  • adj. referring to the maternal side of a family
  • n. a device to which a bundle of natural fibres (often wool, flax, or cotton) are attached for temporary storage, before being drawn off gradually to spin thread. A traditional distaff is a staff with flax fibres tied loosely to it (see Etymology), but modern distaffs are often made of cords weighted with beads, and attached to the wrist.
  • n. the part of a spinning wheel from which fibre is drawn to be spun
  • n. anything traditionally done by or considered of importance to women only
  • n. women considered as a group

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The staff for holding a bunch of flax, tow, or wool, from which the thread is drawn in spinning by hand.
  • n. Used as a symbol of the holder of a distaff; hence, a woman; women, collectively.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In the earliest method of spinning, the staff, usually a cleft stick about 3 feet long, on which was wound a quantity of wool, cotton, or flax to be spun.
  • n. Figuratively, a woman, or the female sex.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. characteristic of or peculiar to a woman
  • n. the sphere of work by women
  • n. the staff on which wool or flax is wound before spinning


Middle English distaf, from Old English distæf : dis-, bunch of flax + stæf, staff.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English distaf, from Old English distæf ("distaff"), from Old English *dis (cognate with Middle Low German dise ("bunch of flax")) + Old English stæf ("staff"). (Wiktionary)



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  • Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Supergirl, Lady Deadpool, Scorpia, Ms Marvel… comic-book writers love to spin off distaff counterparts

    June 21, 2011

  • In Old English dis means "bunch of flax".
    Originally, it denoted a stick that held flax while it was being spun,
    but eventually it came to label the spinsters themselves.

    (according to my e-mail from

    here is the associated google ad:

    Spinning Wheel
    Regálate la Bici Spinning original. ¡Y por menos que la cuota del gym!

    February 24, 2009