/dis"taf, -tahf/, n.
1. a staff with a cleft end for holding wool, flax, etc., from which the thread is drawn in spinning by hand.
2. a similar attachment on a spinning wheel.
3. Archaic.
a. a woman or women collectively.
b. woman's work.
4. Sometimes Offensive. noting, pertaining to, characteristic of, or suitable for a woman; female.
[bef. 1000; ME distaf, OE distaef, equiv. to dis- (c. LG diesse bunch of flax on a distaff; cf. DIZEN) + staef STAFF]

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Device used in hand spinning in which individual fibres are drawn out of a mass of prepared fibres held on a stick (the distaff), twisted together to form a continuous strand, and wound on a second stick (the spindle).

It is most often used for making linen; wool does not require a distaff (see carding). The first stage in mechanizing spinning was to mount the spindle horizontally in bearings to rotate with a large hand-driven wheel; the distaff, carrying the mass of fibre, was held in the left hand, and the spinning wheel slowly turned with the right. The Saxon, or Saxony, wheel incorporated a bobbin on which the yarn was wound continuously; the distaff holding the raw fibre became a stationary vertical rod, and the wheel was activated by a foot treadle, freeing both the operator's hands. From 17th-century England, the word distaff became a synonym for maternal as most spinning was done by women in their homes. See also domestic system.

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Distaff — Dis taff, n.; pl. {Distaffs}, rarely {Distaves}. [OE. distaf, dysestafe, AS. distaef; cf. LG. diesse the bunch of flax on a distaff, and E. dizen. See {Staff}.] 1. The staff for holding a bunch of flax, tow, or wool, from which the thread is… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • distaff — O.E. distæf stick that holds flax for spinning, from dis bunch of flax (Cf. M.L.G. dise, Low Ger. diesse a bunch of flax on a distaff; see BEDIZEN (Cf. bedizen)) + stæf stick, staff (see STAFF (Cf. staff)). A synonym in English for …   Etymology dictionary

  • Distaff — A wooden staff held by the spinner under the left arm on which was the bunch of flax or wool from which the thread was drawn in the hand spinning of olden times …   Dictionary of the English textile terms

  • distaff — ► NOUN 1) a stick or spindle on to which wool or flax is wound for spinning. 2) (before another noun ) denoting the female side or members of a family. Compare with SPEAR(Cf. ↑spear) (in sense 3). ORIGIN Old English …   English terms dictionary

  • distaff — [dis′taf΄] n. [ME distaf < OE distæf < dis , flax (see DIZEN) + stæf, STAFF1] 1. a staff on which fibers, as flax or wool, are wound before being spun into thread 2. woman s work or concerns 3. Archaic woman, or women in general adj …   English World dictionary

  • Distaff — Queen Berthe instructing girls to spin flax on spindles using distaffs, Albert Anker, 1888 …   Wikipedia

  • distaff — UK [ˈdɪstɑːf] / US [ˈdɪˌstæf] noun [countable] Word forms distaff : singular distaff plural distaffs a small stick used in the past for winding wool around when spinning • on the distaff side …   English dictionary

  • distaff — I. noun (plural distaffs) Etymology: Middle English distaf, from Old English distæf, from dis (akin to Middle Low German dise bunch of flax) + stæf staff Date: before 12th century 1. a. a staff for holding the flax, tow, or wool in spinning b.… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • distaff — [OE] The compound noun distaff ‘rod for holding flax, wool, etc in spinning’ was a late Old English formation from *dis ‘bunch of flax’ (a word which survives in bedizen [17], a derivative of the obsolete dizen, which originally meant ‘put flax… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • distaff — [ dɪstα:f] noun 1》 a stick or spindle on to which wool or flax is wound for spinning. 2》 [as modifier] denoting or concerning women: a family tree on the distaff side. Compare with spear (in sense 3). Origin OE distæf: the first element is appar …   English new terms dictionary

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