from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A staff that holds on its cleft end the unspun flax, wool, or tow from which thread is drawn in spinning by hand.
  • noun An attachment for a spinning wheel that serves this purpose.
  • noun Work and concerns traditionally considered important to women.
  • noun Women considered as a group.
  • adjective Of or relating to women and girls; female.
  • adjective Relating to or being the female line or maternal branch of a family.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun 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.
  • noun Figuratively, a woman, or the female sex.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun The staff for holding a bunch of flax, tow, or wool, from which the thread is drawn in spinning by hand.
  • noun Used as a symbol of the holder of a distaff; hence, a woman; women, collectively.
  • noun descent on the mother's side.
  • noun the morrow of the Epiphany, that is, January 7, because working at the distaff was then resumed, after the Christmas festival; -- called also Rock Day, a distaff being called a rock.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective of, relating to, or characteristic of women
  • adjective referring to the maternal side of a family
  • noun 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.
  • noun the part of a spinning wheel from which fibre is drawn to be spun
  • noun anything traditionally done by or considered of importance to women only
  • noun women considered as a group

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

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


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

[Middle English distaf, from Old English distæf : dis-, bunch of flax; akin to Middle Dutch disen, to prepare a distaff with flax; see dizen + stæf, staff.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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").


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  • 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

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

    June 21, 2011