a. A staff that holds on its cleft end the unspun flax, wool, or tow from which thread is drawn in spinning by hand.
b. An attachment for a spinning wheel that serves this purpose.
2. Work and concerns traditionally considered important to women.
3. Women considered as a group.
1. Of or relating to women and girls; female.
2. Relating to or being the female line or maternal branch of a family.
[Middle English distaf, from Old English distæf : dis-, bunch of flax; akin to Middle Dutch disen, to prepare a distaff with flax; see DIZEN + stæf, staff.]
(click for a larger image)distaff
distaff with unspun wool and spindle with spun wool
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
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