1 a : related through a mother
b : inherited or derived from the female parent
2 : female
Did You Know?
The word distaff was first used for a short staff that held a bundle of fibers—of flax or wool, for example—ready to be spun into yarn or thread. Since spinning was a basic daily task customarily done by women, the distaff came to be the symbol for the work or domain of women. This symbolic use of the noun distaff dates back to the time of Chaucer and is found in several works by Shakespeare. Eventually distaff came to be used for the female branch of a family and then as an adjective, as in "the distaff side of the family."
"Lord Robert Walsingham de Vere St. Simon, second son of the Duke of Balmoral.… The Duke, his father, was at one time Secretary for Foreign Affairs. They inherit Plantagenet blood by direct descent, and Tudor on the distaff side." — Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor," 1892
"One hint that the article was aimed more at the distaff side was in the second of 15 trends it listed, namely: 'Meet Workleisure: Athleisure is taking on the workplace.' The illustrations were of women, the brands mentioned were feminine lines and, well, that whole concept is just too burdensome to plan and too pricey for my closet." — Mike Tighe, The La Crosse (Wisconsin) Tribune, 29 Dec. 2016
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