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

  • n. Wealth or riches, especially when dishonestly acquired.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. money; riches; gain; especially when dishonestly acquired (cf. lucre)

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Money; riches; lucre; gain; -- generally conveying the idea of something ill-gotten or worthless. It has no plural.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Frippery; rubbish; refuse; trash.
  • n. Money; riches; “filtby lucre”: a contemptuous term. It has no plural.

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

  • n. informal terms for money


Middle English, from Medieval Latin pelfra, pelfa, probably from Old French pelfre.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Old French pelfre, "booty, stolen goods." It is related to pilfer. (Wiktionary)



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  • In John Keats' narrative poem "Isabella", the heroine's materialistic brothers are referred to as "those Baälites of pelf" – invective worth remembering.

    June 30, 2015

  • "Of course, he isn't literally a fishmonger (I don't believe he even likes fish), because this is a City Livery Company, and while the Fishmongers' retains more links with the trade than, say, the Goldsmiths' it is in essence a living fossil; a medieval guild, cemented to the Square Mile like an oyster, through which flows a great current of nutritious pelf."
    Psychogeography by Will Self, 138

    October 16, 2010

  • I was dazzled by the gold and jewels which he laid out in burning row before me, and became a living monument in my own person, that miraculous transformations are effected by the power of pelf, as well as by the wand of love.

    - Lesage, The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane, tr. Smollett, bk 7 ch. 7

    September 30, 2008

  • For though your honour is kind to me in worldly pelf, yet what shall a man get to lose his soul, as holy scripture says, and please your honour?

    Joseph Leman to Lovelace, Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

    January 4, 2008

  • Curiouser, "matted pelf" is (or was, until now) a googlewhack. I now feel drawn by kismet towards the poet Gongora.

    January 4, 2008

  • I suppose so. But my mistaken definition of pelf was concurrent with a correct understanding of pelt. For some reason the phrase "matted pelf" sticks in my mind.

    January 4, 2008

  • That would be because of pelt.

    January 4, 2008

  • For some reason I always thought this word meant animal hide or fur.

    January 4, 2008

  • "A miser's mind thou hast
    Thou has a prince's pelf
    Which makes thee wealthy to thine heir--
    A beggar to thyself."
    --I forget, but I want to say "Shakespeare"

    December 28, 2007

  • The ultimate question in the derivative suit, is whether a sentient and alert corporate Board of Directors...would conclude he is entitled to depart from its employ while claiming pelf approaching $800,000,000.

    December 28, 2007