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Definition: (1) a loud or rude talk, (2) a cheap music hall or theatre, place of amusement for the lower class.

Pronunciation: gaef


Gaff first penetrated the English language in 1825 as a derivation of the Old English gafspaec which represented blasphemous or ribald speech. Merely 25 years later, gaff came to represent the halls of blasphemous speech- the penny gaffs, the penny theaters.

The oldest (1300’s) definition of ‘gaff’ is an iron hook, specifically the hook on a fishing spear. Although this information is nowhere to be found, I assume fishermen’s language not to be the richest, most religious and respectful; perhaps this is the word’s oldest origin.

Why this word?

The word gaff holds so many possibilities. Think about Victorian England, imagine the sharp dichotomy between the rich and the poor alongside to the non-existing middle-class. The rich had everything, clean close in abundance, unneeded profusion of all possible foods, domestic comfort and warmth and so much more. The poor hunted rats for dinner and practiced theft to gain their minimal possessions. As the English theatre and its traditions spread throughout the country, the low class gave it its own representation as their call for culture and established the Penny Gaffs, penny theatres.

These gaffs consisted of short, theatrical entertainments which could be staged in the back room of a public house or in any given empty hall. Cheap and unsophisticated, the props and scenery rarely showed more than a stage and a piano. The lessee of the venue would stand by the stage, calling out when each act finishes, in an attempt to maximize the evening’s revenue. Nowadays, gaff can refer to any social event that is cheaper than expensive, or any remark that is somewhat foul.

How to use the word gaff in a sentence?

Gaff is a noun, representing a cheaper even, or a cheaper expression.

Liz would never go there! With her always-fancy-clothes she’d say it’s a gaff and refuse to walk in, believe me“.

John is really gaff prone when he drinks; I’d keep the table dry of liquor if I were you“.


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Written by Victoria Sheinkin

Victoria Sheinkin is a writer, content editor, translator and chief editor for Speaking three and a half languages, she holds two BAs from the Tel Aviv university- Communication and jounalism, English literature and linguistics.


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