noun \ˈdis-ˌtaf\
plural distaffs \-ˌtafs, -ˌtavz\

Definition of DISTAFF

a :  a staff for holding the flax, tow, or wool in spinning
b :  woman's work or domain
:  the female branch or side of a family

Illustration of DISTAFF

Origin of DISTAFF

Middle English distaf, from Old English distæf, from dis- (akin to Middle Low German dise bunch of flax) + stæf staff
First Known Use: before 12th century

Other Anthropology Terms

ectomorph, ethnography, prehistory, yurt



: of, relating to, or being a woman

Full Definition of DISTAFF

:  maternal 2 <the distaff side of the family> — compare spear
:  female 1 <distaff executives>

First Known Use of DISTAFF

circa 1633


noun    (Concise Encyclopedia)

Device used in hand spinning in which individual fibres are drawn out of a mass of prepared fibres held on a stick (the distaff), twisted together to form a continuous strand, and wound on a second stick (the spindle). It is most often used for making linen; wool does not require a distaff (see carding). The first stage in mechanizing spinning was to mount the spindle horizontally in bearings to rotate with a large hand-driven wheel; the distaff, carrying the mass of fibre, was held in the left hand, and the spinning wheel slowly turned with the right. The Saxon, or Saxony, wheel incorporated a bobbin on which the yarn was wound continuously; the distaff holding the raw fibre became a stationary vertical rod, and the wheel was activated by a foot treadle, freeing both the operator's hands. From 17th-century England, the word distaff became a synonym for maternal as most spinning was done by women in their homes. See also domestic system.


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