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Naff

Posted by Gary on January 05, 2002

In Reply to: Naff posted by R. Berg on January 05, 2002

: : : As used elsewhere lower down this page, the word "naff" is (I am fairly sure) peculiarly British. It seems to be used in two slightly different ways:

: : : i) as a replacement for a more vulgar expletive - as in when someone is told to "naff off" or when something is "naffing awful". However, I'm sure that there's no stand-alone verb "to naff".

: : : ii) as an adjective meaning tasteless, worthless or just generally bad. Someone can be wearing a "naff" shirt, or can go to a "naff" party.

: : : Origins, anyone? I'm at a loss.

: :
: : Well, really!!!!

: Eric Partridge's entry for "naffy" in A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English might be relevant. Or it might not. Perhaps those on the right side of the ocean will deign to tell the rest of us.

: "'Naffy,' used as a pejorative adjective, connotes 'shirking': Services: since ca. 1940. Cf. the Navy's 'Naffy rating,' a shirker. Here, the initials N.A.A.F.I. are interpreted as standing for 'No Aim, Ambition or f****** Initiative'."

: Are naff devices (see Lazy Susan thread below) what are sometimes called labor-saving devices, the connection being that using them encourages avoidance of doing something the hard way--a form of shirking?

In my experience there are two uses of naff in the UK. The most common is the adjective - vulgar, tasteless. This has been in use as a slang term for some time but became more popular during the 1980s, initially amongst Sloane Rangers (posh, hooray henry types). I recall the Princess Royal using it in a television interview. I don't know the origin, although it may well be from the wartime NAAFI (the Navy, Army and Airforce Institutes). These were the catering services for the UK military (the naafi is a sort of caafi) and were widely mocked by servicemen.

The verb, as in 'naff off', may well be a modern invention. The first time I heard it was in the comedy series Porridge in the 1970s, used as a plausible sounding but meaningless and thus broadcastable 'four letter swearword off'.