distaff [dis-taf, -tahf]
1. a staff with a cleft end for holding wool, flax, etc., from which the thread is drawn in spinning by hand.
2. a similar attachment on a spinning wheel.
3. Archaic. a woman or women collectively. women's work.
4. Sometimes Offensive. noting, pertaining to, characteristic of, or suitable for a female.
See also distaff side.
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A distaff is the stick onto which wool or flax is wound in spinning. Since spinning was traditionally done by females, distaff took on figurative meanings relating to women or women’s work. In the sense of “female,” the noun distaff is archaic, but the adjective is in current use: distaff chores, a distaff point of view; the distaff side of the family. Women who find the term offensive are probably aware of its origin in female stereotypes. Another current use of the adjective is in reference to horses: a distaff race is for fillies or mares.
Origin: before 1000; Middle English distaf, Old English distæf, equivalent to dis- (cognate with Low German diesse bunch of flax on a distaff; cf. dizen) + stæf staff
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