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

  • noun A public place of entertainment, especially a cheap or disreputable music hall or theater.
  • noun Slang A house, building, or apartment, especially where one resides.
  • noun A large iron hook attached to a pole or handle and used to land large fish.
  • noun Nautical A spar attached to the mast and used to extend the upper edge of a fore-and-aft sail.
  • noun A sharp metal spur or spike fastened to the leg of a gamecock.
  • noun A climbing hook used by telephone and electric line workers.
  • noun Slang A trick or gimmick, especially one used in a swindle or to rig a game.
  • noun Slang Harshness of treatment; abuse.
  • transitive verb To hook or land (a fish) using a gaff.
  • transitive verb To equip (a gamecock) with a gaff.
  • transitive verb To take in or defraud; swindle.
  • transitive verb To rig or fix in order to cheat.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun In Great, Britain, a theater of the lowest class, the admission to which is generally a penny; a cheap and loosely conducted place of amusement, where singing and dancing take place.
  • noun Short for gaffer.
  • noun A sharp, strong iron hook, like a large fish-hook without a barb, inserted into or otherwise attached to a wooden handle of convenient length, used especially for landing large fish, as salmon, pike, bass, or the like, after they have been hooked on the line. Also called gaffhook.
  • noun Nautical, a spar used to extend the upper edge of fore-and-aft sails which are not set on stays, as the mainsail of a sloop or the spanker of a ship.
  • noun The metal spur bound to the shanks of fighting-cocks; a gaffle.—
  • To hook with a gaff; land by means of a gaff: as, to gaff a fish.
  • To use the gaff: as, to gaff for an angler.
  • noun Used in the following phrase.

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

  • transitive verb To strike with a gaff or barbed spear; to secure by means of a gaff.
  • noun A barbed spear or a hook with a handle, used by fishermen in securing heavy fish.
  • noun (Naut.) The spar upon which the upper edge of a fore-and-aft sail is extended.
  • noun Same as Gaffle, 1.

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

  • noun rough or harsh treatment; criticism
  • noun A tool consisting of a large metal hook with a handle or pole, especially the one used to pull large fish aboard a boat.
  • noun A minor error or faux pas.
  • noun A trick or con.
  • noun UK, slang A place of residence.
  • noun nautical The upper spar used to control a gaff-rigged sail.
  • noun A garment worn to hide the genitals by male transvestites.
  • verb To use a gaff, especially to land a fish.
  • verb To cheat or hoax

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

  • noun a sharp metal spike or spur that is fastened to the leg of a gamecock
  • noun a spar rising aft from a mast to support the head of a quadrilateral fore-and-aft sail
  • noun an iron hook with a handle; used for landing large fish


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

[Origin unknown.]

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

[Middle English gaffe, from Old French, from Old Provençal gaf, from gafar, to seize, of Germanic origin; see kap- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Perhaps from Old English gafsprǣc ("buffoonery, scurrility; blasphemous or ribald speech"), from Old English gaf ("base, vile, lewd") + Old English sprǣc ("language, speech, talk")

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Middle English, from Middle French gaffe, from Old Provençal gaf ("hook"), derivative of gafar ("to sieze"), from Gothic 𐌲𐌰𐍆𐍆- derived from 𐌲𐌹𐌱𐌰𐌽 (giban, "to give").



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  • I note some spell this gaffe.

    May 19, 2007

  • Hmm...not sure why anyone else added this, but I had in mind "gaff" meaning the hook or spar of a sail, not the faux pas "gaffe."

    May 19, 2007

  • A sort of all-purpose tool carried by Newfoundland sealers, consisting of a light pole with a hook attached to one end. Used to club seals, but also to tow piles of pelts back to the ship, and to pull a man out if he fell through the ice.

    December 10, 2007

  • For gaff meaning loud talk or harsh treatment: Perhaps from Old English gafsprǣc (“buffoonery, scurrility; blasphemous or ribald speech”), from Old English gaf (“base, vile, lewd”) + Old English sprǣc (“language, speech, talk”)

    From Edgar Rice Burrows, Beyond Thirty (aka The Lost Continent):

    "Numbers one, two, and five engines have broken down, sir," he called. "Shall we force the remaining three?"

    "We can do nothing else," I bellowed into the transmitter.

    "They won't stand the gaff, sir," he returned.

    "Can you suggest a better plan?" I asked.

    "No, sir," he replied.

    "Then give them the gaff, lieutenant," I shouted back, and hung up the receiver.

    August 31, 2012