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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 the 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'.