Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 24 01:34:00 UTC 2001

>We've discussed this Britishism before, but this comes from today's New York
>Observer. What are the odds it's true?
>"I recently found out the origin of the word naff. Now widely used
>in the U.K. to
>mean "a depressing lack of style," naff was originally a gay slang
>acronym for "Not
>Available For Fucking," i.e., "straight" (i.e., "dreary"). Naff is a
>great word with no
>American translation. Remember, tacky means "cheap or glitzy,"
>whereas naff is about
>stylistic shortcomings which are horrifyingly average and
>pathetically un-groovy. Use
>the word naff and become a connoisseur of naff. After all, it is a vanishing
>Grant Barrett

Looks to me like another candidate for the pseudo-acronym files.  Is
there any evidence for this derivation?  Might as well opt (to take a
few random possibilities suggested by for the "National
Association For Fathers", the "North Alabama Fishing Forum", or the
"North Atlantic Folk Festival".  OK, pretty unlikely, but I don't see
the proposed source as any more plausible. "Naff" doesn't appear in
Bruce Rodgers's Gay Talk, one of the standard lexicons of gay slang,
and and while at least one dictionary of polari/parlare, the now
evanescent British "secret" gay lingo includes the above etymology,
it also derives "camp" as an acronym for Known As Male Prostitute, so
that's not terribly convincing.  The much more authoritative polari
lexicon at, compiled by
Hugh Young, provides "Not Available For Fucking" along with "Normal
As Fuck" and "Naffuckinggood" as dubious sources and comments
"acronyms probably back-formed".  Indeed.  Since it does appear that
naff may have (not did, but may have) originated in polari/British
gay slangI'll cross-post this query on OUTiL and see if anyone there
has a more likely story.

As for the standard sources, AHD4 has naff as "of unknown origin",
the OED refers to related entries in the English Dialect Dictionary
(naffhead, naffy, naffin) and Scots naffy as an analogous term of
contempt, but also has "origin unknown".   Farmer & Henley has no
listing for naff  or naffy but has one for naf:  (back-slang [from
fan(ny)])  'the female pudendum'.  I'd wager that's unrelated too.

The OED's definition for naff is

Unfashionable, outmoded, or vulgar; unselfconsciously lacking style,
socially inept; also, worthless, faulty, `dud'

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