Student Dictionary

2 entries found for distaff.
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Main Entry: 1dis·taff
Pronunciation: primarystressdis-secondarystresstaf
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural distaffs /-secondarystresstafs, -secondarystresstavz/
Etymology: from earlier distaff (noun) "a staff for holding flax or wool for spinning," from Old English distæf (same meaning), from dis- "bunch of flax" and stæf "staff"
1 : a staff for holding the flax or wool in spinning
2 : the female branch or side of a family
Word History Before the invention of the spinning wheel, the spinning of yarn or thread was traditionally done by women using a spindle and a distaff. A spindle was a long spool to hold and spin the yarn. A distaff was a short rod with an opening or branches at the top for holding the flax or wool. The word distæf in Old English meant literally "flax staff," from dis- "a bunch of flax" and stæf "staff." Because women usually did the spinning, the distaff came to be a symbol for women's work. The word distaff in time took on the meaning "women's work" and later "woman." The noun distaff is rarely used in this way today, but the female members of a family are still referred to as the distaff side.
[distaff illustration]

Pronunciation Symbols