Word of the day – naff

Naff is a British slang word meaning unstylish, lacking taste, rubbish or inferior and is an antonym of nang, cool, groovy, nifty, etc. Its etymology is uncertain, according to this source.

Is naff used elsewhere in the English-speaking world? If not, what do you use instead?

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language, Words and phrases.

16 Responses to Word of the day – naff

  1. LandTortoise says:

    Rough equivalents in Castillian Spanish: “chabacano” and “cursi”

  2. Sam says:

    I also like the Castillian word ‘cutre’. Although not listed as such (see http://rae.es/cutre), it means naff but more accurately tacky, although often in a way which actually makes it cool. English has kitsch, and you can talk about things being so uncool that they become cool, but nothing quite the same.

  3. James C. says:

    That term is completely unknown in North America. I haven’t heard it among Americans or Canadians from a wide variety of places across the continent.

    In Hawaiian Pidgin you can say “hemajang” /hɛmadʒæŋ/ for things that are screwed up or put together wrong. A synonym with slightly different connotations is “kapakahi” /kapakahi/ from Hawaiian.

  4. LandTortoise says:

    I’m pretty sure the use of “naff” goes back to British gay slang of the 50′s and 60′s when it was specifically used to denote the bad taste of heterosexuals interms of dress and lack of refinement.

  5. Petréa Mitchell says:

    “Lame” covers most of that territory in US English. I’ve seen “gay” used as a synonym a few times, but most people grasp that that sense is offensive.

    Re: Sam’s comment, “kitsch” is equivalent to the British “tat”.

  6. Stephen Shelby says:

    When I was a kid I used to read my Dad’s old Archie comics from the late 1960s and early 70s. I could be crazy, but I’m almost certain that I remember Archie characters using the word “naff.” I’ve never heard of it in any more recent contexts in the US and none of my friends have heard of it at all. Of course I doubt that Archie comics would have exactly been on the front lines of promoting fashionable gay British slang to an American audience. But is it possible that this word enjoyed a brief existence in North America around the time of the British Invasion and then fell into obscurity?

  7. Yenlit says:

    Funnily enough the usage of “naff” is naff in itself anyone remember Princess Anne’s famous quote, “Naff orf!”?

  8. TheSpectacledBear says:

    I’m almost certain that I remember Ronnie Barker (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronnie_Barker) saying that the word “naff” was invented by the writers of “Porridge”, a 70s sitcom set in a prison, so that the prisoners could swear without actually using swearwords, and so that the show could be on in an early-evening timeslot. It moved into general use (eg Princess Anne) quite quickly.

    In polari (British gay slang) it meant boring or dull and stood for Not Available for F**king, apparently. I doubt the writers of Porridge knew that – or maybe they did, and it was a sort of joke to get it past the BBC censors!!

  9. Remd says:

    I must say I have never heard ‘chavacano’ or ‘cursi’ as an equivalent of ‘tacky’ in Castilian Spanish, in fact, I’ve never used ‘chavacano’ and it sounds to me quite American. On the other hand, according to the dictionary, ‘cursi’ means affected, but I don’t really know if it is used that way in English, for me, the pink room full of teddy bears of a girl would be ‘cursi’. Whereas ‘cutre’ is commonly used to describe something that is the opposite of cool. One word I personally love is ‘ortopédico’ used exactly as ‘cutre’.

  10. bronz says:

    I’ve heard “gay” used in this sense a lot here in the US, but its usage is mostly restricted to kids, usually male, in their teens, and they tend to grow out of it once they get into/out of college.

  11. Polly says:

    I am trying to singlehandedly bringing back the word “lame” to refer to un-cool things. It was popular when I was a kid.
    I’ve never heard of “naff.”

  12. Remd says:

    I correct myself, I’ve discovered that some people I know uses ‘chavacano’ sometimes. By the way, I thought ‘lame’ was still popular or at least somehow common.

  13. tim hall says:

    ‘Kitsch’ isn’t directly equivalent to ‘tat’, ‘tat’ is a noun referring to possessions. Surely Petréa means ‘tatty’?
    I had assumed Ronnie Barker invented the word ‘naff’ before I read TheSpectacledBear’s reference to polari. We live and learn!

  14. Petréa Mitchell says:

    “Kitsch” is things, “kitschy” is the adjectival form.

  15. Tommy says:

    I’m from the Southern USA, mid 20s. I have never heard of “naff”, but I remember hearing “nappy” a lot when I was a kid. Some sites on the internet say its more when something looks unclean or disgusting, but I kind of remember it being used for general lack of style.

    Btw, in Japanese, you can say ダサい (dasai) to point out various inferiorities, from the way someway dresses to how someone dances or plays a sport.

  16. Morag says:

    being both American and Scottish… I think the US would say ‘tacky’ for ‘naff’ especially the unstylish, lacking taste aspect of the word