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In the late Middle Ages, the Anglo-French word pelfre, meaning "booty" or "stolen goods," was borrowed into English as pelf with the added meaning of "property." (Pelfre is also an ancestor of the English verb pilfer, meaning "to steal.") Eventually, pelf showed gains when people began to use it for "money" and "riches." In some regions of Britain the word's use was diversified further, in a depreciative way, to refer to trash and good-for-nothings. The first of those meanings was a loss by about the mid-17th century; the second has little value outside of the Yorkshire region of England.

Examples of pelf in a Sentence

a politician who seems more interested in pelf than in policy
Recent Examples on the Web Thomasine and Bushrod join up (as sheriffs relate) and share their pelf with Mexicans, Native Americans, other Black people, and poor white people. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 13 May 2022

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

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French pelfre booty

First Known Use

circa 1505, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pelf was circa 1505


Dictionary Entries Near pelf

Cite this Entry

“Pelf.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

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