gaf·​fer ˈga-fər How to pronounce gaffer (audio)
: an old man compare gammer
: a head glassblower
: a lighting electrician on a motion-picture or television set

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Though movie and cinema buffs associate gaffer with Hollywood, the word actually pre-dates motion pictures by about 300 years. The first recorded use of gaffer dates from the 16th century, when it was used as a title of respect for an older gentleman. Later it was used as a generic noun for any elderly man, and then it picked up the sense "foreman" (still used in British English), perhaps because the foreman was the most experienced and, most likely, the oldest person in a work crew. Today gaffer is usually applied to the head lighting electrician on a movie set. The gaffer's assistant is called the best boy.

Examples of gaffer in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web His production designer quit and his gaffer (lighting) died. Erin Jensen, USA TODAY, 3 Apr. 2024 While working as a gaffer on a commercial, the director of photography and cinematographer had a family emergency, giving Frohna the opportunity to lead the project. Adrienne Davis, Journal Sentinel, 11 Mar. 2024 Now everyone, including lighting gaffers, carpenters, production assistants, wardrobe, hair and makeup artists, zombie extras, gun wranglers, and all who bring movies and TV to life or not can go to work again. Andy Hoglund,, 12 Nov. 2023 And that brings us to the next wrinkle: the business traditionally takes most, if not all, of December off to give every actor, gaffer, and agent a breather from what can be very long days and weeks the rest of the year. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 11 Nov. 2023 The series’ gaffer had the idea to blast the interviews with bright white light like an Avedon portrait. Daniel D'addario, Variety, 20 Sep. 2023 The videos include professionals in specialties such as gaffer, grip, locations, hair and makeup, accounting, camera, production assistant and props. Tommy Cummings, Dallas News, 7 Sep. 2023 Tarps and blankets can only be placed with painter's, gaffer or masking tapes. Haadiza Ogwude, The Enquirer, 31 Aug. 2023 The Globe reached out to a handful of New Englanders — actors, a costumer, a scenic artist, a gaffer (lighting technician), and a set carpenter — who make their living working on films in the area. Nicole Kagan,, 10 Aug. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'gaffer.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


phonetic reduction of godfather entry 1 (with initial vowel perhaps from grandfather entry 1)

First Known Use

1589, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of gaffer was in 1589


Dictionary Entries Near gaffer

Cite this Entry

“Gaffer.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 May. 2024.

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