Definition of distaff in US English:



  • 1A stick or spindle onto which wool or flax is wound for spinning.

    • ‘They shared their gaze for a moment longer and then Gwenddien managed to look away, returning once again to the distaff.’
    • ‘As well, the greater efficiency of the spinning wheel probably led to lower piecework rates for all spinning, whether with distaff or wheel, despite the fact that wheel-spun yarn was not always the suitable material.’
    • ‘Often she walked to town with her distaff in her hand, spinning as she went; and sometimes she came back with a small jar of wine balanced on her head, in the fashion of the peasant girls.’
    • ‘The distaff by Barbauld's account is not restricted to women, nor is it a degradation to be employed by men.’
    • ‘Her profession seems almost engraved in her form as she holds the distaff under her arm, draws the thread skillfully from it, and winds it on the bobbin with her other hand, all the while looking fixedly, eyes not quite focused, at us.’
    • ‘Often the prepared wool was put on a distaff to make it easier to spin.’
    • ‘While we have land to labor, let us never wish to see our citizens occupied at a workbench or twirling a distaff.’
    • ‘Then she brought forth a sack of carded wool, and three distaffs, and brought this all over to where we sat.’
    • ‘She waited and waited until it felt as if her nerves were being pulled taut as spun wool and whirled dizzily on the distaff.’
    • ‘It was used as a weigh loft, in which the woollen yarn produced by the country women's distaff and spinning-wheel was weighed out to the cap, jacket, or cloth manufacturers.’
    • ‘Gnarled and veined like branches of an old olive tree, her hands rested in her lap wrapped around distaff and spindle, paused for the moment from spinning wool from the basket at her feet.’
    1. 1.1as modifier Of or concerning women.
      • ‘In the absence of anything more appealing just now, concocting distaff versions of some of the sport's more illustrious bouts from the past is reckoned to be good business.’
      • ‘You read that right: finally, the distaff gamer can create her own digital counterpart.’
      • ‘The distaff decision was delivered to Brenda Raganot.’
      • ‘It's just that Tim Davis, Scott Peterman, Dan Torop and Mark Wyse, although as adept as their distaff colleagues, have less in common.’
      • ‘It rankled, this meeting, closed to them in the same way the ranks of management had once been closed to their distaff counterparts.’
      • ‘This sudden burst of sensitivity for the station's distaff set strikes some observers as a bit rich.’
      • ‘Fillies and mares will benefit the most from the increased racing opportunities with seven new races restricted to the distaff division.’
      • ‘I can't tell you how nice it is to have another distaff member of the house to talk with.’
      • ‘In the distaff category, the Romanian girls won the first three tournaments.’
      • ‘Nor do we get any insight into what drives his distaff nemesis, aside from a wholly generic motivation, and a fuzzy one at that.’
      • ‘At first glance, it feels like a distaff version of the same revenge saga, but gradually it reveals itself as even more baroque than its immediate predecessor.’
      • ‘While I'm dishing out the demerits, lest you think it was all distaff damage, know that my father went through a rather extraordinary ice-cream phase.’
      • ‘In a token attempt at fairness Frank spoke to distaff staff and the Hill's always-burgeoning florist community to find out where the boys are.’
      • ‘However, the prospect of an army of females not only having tea in his home, but also planning to stay indefinitely, finally breaks down his resolve and he joins the distaff ranks.’
      • ‘A furious effort is under way to develop pills, pumps, patches and gels: distaff versions of the enormously profitable Viagra.’
      • ‘As yet, she's too much your standard feisty, gutsy, lateral-thinking distaff detective to be viable independently.’
      • ‘Now that the studios cater to ever younger audiences with ever younger stars in ever goofier vehicles, actors (especially the distaff members of the profession) are considered over the hill at thirty-five.’
      • ‘And considering that the Guthrie's new complex on the river will present more opportunities to do new work, we can, without undue optimism, expect to see an increase in distaff dramatists in the Guthrie's future.’
      • ‘Well, at least they've brought back Daniel Jackson, pleasing the distaff fans.’


Old English distæf: the first element is apparently related to Middle Low German dise, disene ‘distaff, bunch of flax’; the second is staff. distaff (sense 2 of the noun) arose because spinning was traditionally done by women.