plural oafs
: a stupid person : boob
a thoughtless, clueless oafNew York Times
: a big clumsy slow-witted person
Get out of my way, you big oaf.
oafish adjective
oafishly adverb
oafishness noun

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Oaf Has a Fanciful History

A long time ago in England, it was believed that elves sometimes secretly exchanged their babies for human babies. This was used as an explanation when parents found themselves with a baby that failed to meet expectations or desires: these parents believed that their real baby had been stolen by elves and that a changeling had been left in its place. The label for such a child was auf, or alfe, (meaning "an elf's or a goblin's child"), which was later altered to form our present-day oaf. Although the linguistic history is not entirely clear, auf is likely from the Middle English alven, elven, meaning "elf" or "fairy." Today, the word oaf is no longer associated with babies and is instead applied to anyone who appears especially unintelligent or graceless.

Examples of oaf in a Sentence

it's not polite to call your brother a stupid oaf anyone who took him for an oaf and tried to cheat him would be in for a nasty surprise
Recent Examples on the Web As women have enjoyed more economic opportunities, they’re less often forced to marry some oaf who gets violent after a few drinks — and, anyway, what self-respecting woman with independent means would want to marry, say, a fan of Andrew Tate? Nicholas Kristof, The Mercury News, 2 Apr. 2024 However, the main resident of the island where the adventure takes place is — surprise, surprise — the large and lethargic blueish oaf known as Snorlax. Eric Lagatta, USA TODAY, 7 July 2023 Roberts argues that George III was not the monstrous oaf typically described by historians, but was practically perfect in every way, as pure an example of the Enlightenment as could be imagined – except, Roberts implies, where the Enlightenment got things wrong. Steve Donoghue, The Christian Science Monitor, 8 Feb. 2022 Curry in particular is well known for portraying villains (It, Ferngully, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), but doesn't always strike the right balance as the loveable patriarchal oaf. Lee Escobedo,, 7 Dec. 2022 Adding Paul into the mix as a bumbling oaf (and not even a particularly lovable one) creates an unnecessary love triangle. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, 19 Oct. 2022 Jeremy Allen White stars as a famous chef who returns to Chicago to take over his late brother’s beef joint, and he and his new co-workers — including Ayo Edebiri’s newcomer and Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s stubborn oaf — form a system that, usually, works. Matthew Gilbert,, 7 July 2022 Austin Theory’s character is literally an oaf who made another foolish decision that led to Johnny Gargano’s loss. Alfred Konuwa, Forbes, 25 Feb. 2021 Nowhere in Hansen’s pages is the impulsive, autocratic oaf seen by many of Castro’s critics. Steve Donoghue, The Christian Science Monitor, 12 Aug. 2019

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

Word History


alteration of auf, alfe goblin's child, probably from Middle English alven, elven elf, fairy, from Old English elfen nymphs; akin to Old English ælf elf — more at elf

First Known Use

1682, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of oaf was in 1682


Dictionary Entries Near oaf

Cite this Entry

“Oaf.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a stupid or awkward person
oafish adjective
oafishness noun

derived from auf, alfe "goblin's child," probably from Middle English alven, elven "elf, fairy," from Old English elfen "nymphs"

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