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.

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Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Avoid directing for the director, or gaffing for the gaffer. Lauren Huff,, 9 Sep. 2022 Folks improvise in parking lots, tennis courts and driveways with blue painter’s tape, gaffer tape and sidewalk chalk. Sara Bosworth, WSJ, 24 Aug. 2022 On Sunday, Serge Svetnoy — who was the gaffer on the New Mexico western — posted a long message on his Facebook page detailing Thursday’s fatal shooting. Los Angeles Times, 24 Oct. 2021 Fernando Morales is gaffer, Ramon Manzo is grip, Matt Sheldon is grip/utility and James Olsen is media manager. Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles Times, 7 June 2022 Inflation has hit everything from fuel to electrical equipment to gaffer tape. Winston Cho, The Hollywood Reporter, 27 June 2022 Several crew members, including the gaffer Serge Svetnoy, complained about lax gun safety in the days before the fatal accident, when Baldwin aimed the gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal for a scene in an old wooden church. Meg James, Los Angeles Times, 28 Jan. 2022 Then Blaschke, the cinematographer; Lynch, the gaffer; and Eggers embedded special LED lights that were programmed to move like lava into the ground. Nick Romano,, 24 Apr. 2022 Serge Svetnoy, the film’s gaffer, and Mamie Mitchell, the script supervisor, have previously filed suit. NBC News, 8 Feb. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'gaffer.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 24 Sep. 2022.

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Last Updated: 16 Sep 2022

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