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

  • noun An electrician in charge of lighting on a movie or television set.
  • noun Chiefly British An old man or a rustic.
  • noun Chiefly British A boss or foreman.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun One who gaffs fish: an angler's assistant who with a gaff secures the fish caught. Also gaffsman.
  • noun A workman in a glass-factory; a finisher.
  • noun An old man: originally a rustic term of respect, used as a title; later applied familiarly to any old man of rustic condition.
  • noun In Great Britain, the foreman of a squad of workmen, especially of navvies; an overseer.

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

  • noun An old fellow; an aged rustic.
  • noun Prov. Eng. A foreman or overseer of a gang of laborers.

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

  • noun film A chief lighting technician for a motion-picture or television production.
  • noun A glassblower.
  • noun colloquial An old man.
  • noun UK A foreman.
  • noun An "Old Gaffer" is a sailor.
  • noun In Maritime regions "the Little Gaffer" is the baby in the house. (the boss!)

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

  • noun an electrician responsible for lighting on a movie or tv set
  • noun an elderly man
  • noun a person who exercises control over workers


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

[Probably alteration (influenced by grandfather) of godfather.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English gaffe ("a hook") + -er. The natural lighting on early film sets was adjusted by opening and closing flaps in the tent cloths, called gaff cloths or gaff flaps.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Likely a contraction of godfather, but with the vowels influenced by grandfather. Compare French compère, German gevatter.


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word gaffer.



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • "Outside a shuttered pub a bunch of loiterers listen to a tale which their broken snouted gaffer rasps out with raucous humour."

    Joyce, Ulysses, 15

    January 29, 2007

  • The master craftsman in charge of a chair, or team, of hot-glass workers. A corruption of "grandfather."

    November 9, 2007

  • Also common British slang for a manager, especially of a football team.

    November 9, 2007

  • What I've always wondered about is the relationship between the gaffer and the best boy.

    November 9, 2007

  • I agree sionnach, and there's often a grip mixed up in there too, which makes it all the queasier.

    November 9, 2007

  • Same here. I was meaning to ask the film crew yesterday, when I was surrounded by all manner of gaffers and best boys and grips, but they were frightfully busy (and a little on the rude side). Only one guy took the time to chat with me, and I don't think he would have known anyway.

    November 9, 2007

  • Gaffers are electricians. The grip hauls equipment around and assists with lighting, but doesn't handle electric stuff--rigging and stands, etc. Key grip is the head grip person. The best boy is generally the assistant or helper to either the gaffer or the key grip.

    November 9, 2007

  • And none of them blow glass, I'll bet.

    November 9, 2007

  • As I understand it from some of your recent posts, reesetee, you need a glory hole for that.

    November 9, 2007

  • Yes. Yes you do. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

    November 9, 2007

  • The Head of the Lighting department.

    August 7, 2008

  • On Cobble Road she stopped at Maltby's barn and stood gawking as the old gaffers pitched their ringing horseshoes and spat tobacco juice.

    - William Steig, The Amazing Bone

    September 29, 2008

  • "Propped up against the stonework next to the building's entrance is a gaffer dressed in an antique variant of the Home Guard uniform, involving knickerbockers."

    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, p 253 of the Avon Books paperback edition

    January 30, 2013

  • "Gaffer" is a also a slang term sometimes used in the sailing community to denote a gaff-rigged sailboat or sailing vessel, often used preceded by the word "old". That's probably because gaff rigs are much less common today than in years past.

    April 9, 2023