Gaffe vs. Gaff
Gaff (no final ‘e’), however, can be a noun or a verb and has several disparate meanings. As a noun, it usually refers to a large iron hook attached to a pole or handle that is used to catch or lift large fish (see below). A butcher’s hook can also be called a gaff. As a verb, it means to hook or land a fish using a gaff.
Remember I said there are “several disparate meanings” for the word gaff? Well, here they are—some much more interesting than others. Gaff (noun) can mean something painful or difficult to bear (an ordeal), or rough treatment (abuse). It is also slang for a hoax, fraud, trick, or gimmick. When used as a verb, gaff means to deceive or trick, or to fix for the purpose of cheating (to gaff the dice). In Britain, gaff is used both as a term for a cheap theater or music hall and as slang for the place where someone lives (e.g., a house or apartment).
“Well, that’s not very interesting,” I hear you say.
“Then keep reading,” I say.
While looking for images to illustrate a fishing gaff, I found this among the many pictures of hooks:
First, let’s discuss why P.T. Barnum’s Feejee Mermaid popped up in my Google Images. According to Cryptomundo’s Loren Coleman (who also set about differentiating gaffe from gaff), gaff is the term used for fictional creatures—such as the FeeJee Mermaid and jackalope—created to fool people and draw them into a sideshow. Cool!
Now, why do pictures of what appear to be women’s panties pop up when searching Google Images for gaff? After clicking on a few of the photos, I realized this type of gaff is for drag and transgender men who prefer to, shall we say, “tuck” rather than “nip.” Some further digging uncovered this definition from the website TS Roadmap:
gaff: a device used to secure tucked male genitalia in place to make the area appear female.
And hats off to American Heritage for being the only “proper” online dictionary I found to provide a definition for this use of gaff.
So there you have it: one meaning for G-A-F-F-E and a full dozen meanings for G-A-F-F! Venture forth, dear readers, confident in your knowledge of this diverse pair of homonyms.
My work here is done.
- "The American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Gaff." American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Gaff. https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=gaff (accessed September 15, 2016).
- Coleman, Loren. "Gaff vs Gaffe." Cryptomundo. 8 June 2011. http://cryptomundo.com/cryptozoo-news/gaff-gaffe/ (accessed September 15, 2016).
- "Gaffe." Merriam-Webster.com. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gaffe (accessed September 15, 2016).
- "Glossary of Transgender Terms." Trans Road Map. http://www.tsroadmap.com/start/tgterms.html (accessed September 15, 2016).