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

  • noun The act of sailing closer into the wind.
  • noun The forward edge of a fore-and-aft sail.
  • noun Archaic The fullest part of the bow of a ship.
  • intransitive verb To steer a sailing vessel closer into the wind, especially with the sails flapping.
  • intransitive verb To flap while losing wind. Used of a sail.
  • intransitive verb To sail (a vessel, such as a yacht) closer into the wind during a race so as to prevent an opponent's craft from passing on the windward side.
  • intransitive verb To raise or lower (the boom of a crane or derrick).

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Naut., to bring the head of (a vessel) nearer to the wind.
  • To steer or come nearer to the wind.
  • noun Lieutenant: as, he is first luff.
  • noun A variant of loof.
  • noun The wooden case in which the light is carried in the sport of lowbelling.
  • To lift (the boom of a derrick).
  • noun Nautical
  • noun The fullest and broadest part of a vessel's bow; the loof.
  • noun The weather-gage, or part of a ship toward the wind.
  • noun The sailing of a ship close to the wind.
  • noun The weather part of a fore-and-aft sail, or the side next the mast or stay to which it is attached.
  • noun A luff-tackle.

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

  • intransitive verb (Naut.) To turn the head of a vessel toward the wind; to sail nearer the wind; to turn the tiller so as to make the vessel sail nearer the wind.
  • intransitive verb (Naut.) To flutter or shake from being aligned close to the direction of the wind; -- said of a sail.
  • intransitive verb to make the extreme of this movement, for the purpose of throwing the ship's head into the wind.
  • noun The side of a ship toward the wind.
  • noun The act of sailing a ship close to the wind.
  • noun The roundest part of a ship's bow.
  • noun The forward or weather leech of a sail, especially of the jib, spanker, and other fore-and-aft sails.
  • noun a purchase composed of a double and single block and fall, used for various purposes.
  • noun a luff tackle attached to the fall of another luff tackle.

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

  • noun nautical The vertical edge of a sail that is closest to the direction of the wind.
  • verb nautical, of a sail, intransitive To shake due to being trimmed improperly.
  • verb nautical, of a boat, intransitive To alter course to windward so that the sails luff. (Alternatively luff up)
  • verb mechanical To alter the vertical angle of the jib of a crane so as to bring it level with the load.

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

  • noun (nautical) the forward edge of a fore-and-aft sail that is next to the mast
  • verb sail close to the wind
  • verb flap when the wind is blowing equally on both sides
  • noun the act of sailing close to the wind


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

[Middle English lof, spar holding out the windward tack of a square sail, from Old French, probably of Germanic origin.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Collins English Dictionary states that this word is ultimately derived from Middle Dutch loef. Ellert Ekwall's Shakspere's Vocabulary: its etymological elements (1903) related this verb and loof instead to the East Frisian verb lofen, lufen, which would make it cognate to the French term lover.


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


  • ZippyDSMlee: Vlag: DOn; t mind DS his dicky prickleness is what makes him so hot: X * luff luff*

    GamePolitics News 2009

  • Captain Vernon appeared on deck, and, addressing the second "luff," said.

    The Congo Rovers A Story of the Slave Squadron Harry Collingwood 1886

  • Old junk, however, can yet be "worked up," as the sea expression goes, into other uses, and that perhaps was what Mr. Oldjunk meant; his early adventures as a young "luff" were, for economical reasons, worked up into their present literary shape, with the addition of a certain amount of extraneous matter -- love-making, and the like.

    From Sail to Steam, Recollections of Naval Life 1877

  • "You can do as you like about that," said Captain Gillespie, turning on his heel and calling the watch to tauten the lee-braces a bit, telling the men at the wheel at the same time to "luff" more; "but, you'd better let the chap have a good lie-in to-night and put him in the port watch to-morrow so that Mr Mackay can look after him."

    Afloat at Last A Sailor Boy's Log of his Life at Sea William Heysham Overend 1874

  • It was the same on board the steamer, the watch being visited at frequent intervals by the lieutenant and his subordinate, to the great surprise of the men, who wondered what made the "luff" so fidgety.

    Middy and Ensign George Manville Fenn 1870

  • When the man at the wheel had gone through the nautical evolution involved in "luff," the captain turned to his son and said abruptly -- "We'll run for the Cocos-Keelin 'Islands, Nigel, an' refit."

    Blown to Bits The Lonely Man of Rakata, the Malay Archipelago 1859

  • When the man at the wheel had gone through the nautical evolution involved in "luff," the captain turned to his son and said abruptly --

    Blown to Bits or, The Lonely Man of Rakata 1859

  • The poetry of the first line announces the tone -- "He is awake before daylight greases the black pan of the sky" -- and the verbs play with the reader ( "luff" and "susses").

    Emerging Writers Network 2010

  • 'T would be 'luff' and 'keep her away' every half minute or so, should we attempt to beat up among 'em; and who is there aboard here to brace up, and haul aft, and ease off, and to swing yards sich as our'n? "

    The Crater James Fenimore Cooper 1820

  • And then, and not until then, did I luff up and ease out the main-sheet.

    White and Yellow 2010


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

  • "love" - luff you with two ff's...

    December 4, 2006

  • "hey were, says Mr Stephen, and the end was that the men of the island, seeing no help was toward as the ungrate women were all of one mind, made a wherry raft, loaded themselves and their bundles of chattels on shipboard, set all masts erect, manned the yards, sprang their luff, heaved to, spread three sheets in the wind, put her head between wind and water, weighed anchor, ported her helm, ran up the jolly Roger, gave three times three, let the bullgine run, pushed off in their bumboat and put to sea to recover the main of America."

    Jooyce, Ulysses, 14

    January 20, 2007

  • "He would not even stop long enough to take in fresh supplies from the bum-boats that came round the ship, observing in his decided manner 'that they were not here to blow out their kites with lobscouse, nor to choke their luffs with figgy-dowdy, but to convey the Catalan troops to Santandero without a moment's loss of time...'"

    --Patrick O'Brian, The Surgeon's Mate, 287

    February 9, 2008

  • "Luff! the order to the helmsman to put the tiller towards the lee-side of the ship, in order to make the ship sail nearer to the direction of the wind.

    "Luff, also signifies the roundest part of the bow of the ship.

    "Luff of a Sail, is the fore, or weather, part thereof.

    "Luff Round! is the order to throw the ship's head up in the wind, in order to tack her, &c.

    "To Luff into a Harbour, is to sail into it close by the wind.

    "To Spring a Luff, is to yield to the effort of the helm, by sailing nearer to the direction of the wind, than the ship had done before.

    "Keep your Luff! the order to the steersman to keep nearer to the wind.

    "Luff-tackle, a name given to any large tackle that is not destined for a particular place, but may be variously employed, as occasion requires. It is, generally, somewhat larger than the jigger-tackle, although smaller than those which serve to hoise the heavier materials into and out of the vessel; which latter are the main and fore tackles, the stay and quarter tackles, &c."

    Falconer's New Universal Dictionary of the Marine (1816), 246

    October 14, 2008

  • I positively adore this word when used as 'love'. But it really annoys me when people overuse it or use it for things they really don't luff deep down.

    And I especially like it when someone's accent disallows them to properly pronounce 'love' and thus producing 'luff' instead.

    December 21, 2009

  • This word was also used in the "Master And Commander" movie.

    June 22, 2012