Green’s Dictionary of Slang

gaff n.1

[Rom. gav, a town, esp. a market town]

1. a fair.

[UK]J. Poulter Discoveries (1774) 20: Burk will show you where you may buss a Couple of Prads, and fence them at Abingdon Gaff; that is, Burk, will show you a Couple of Horses that you may steal, and sell them at Abingdon Fair.
[UK]Whole Art of Thieving 5: In a fair or market, where there is a throng of people, we say, Come Culls, shall us Pike to the Push or Gaff.
[US] ‘A Pickpocket’s Song’ in Confessions of Thomas Mount 20: I and my blowen to the gaff / Straightway did repair.
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum n.p.: gaff A fair. The drop coves maced the joskins at the gaff; the ring-droppers cheated the countrymen at the fair.
[Scot]D. Haggart Autobiog. 14: The whole three of us [...] went to Lockerby to attend the gaff.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]P. Allingham Cheapjack 302: There was something about the gaff-ground which attracted the show-people even when there was no business to be done.
[UK]F. Norman Stand on Me 7: I had been working on a fair gaff for a few summers.
[UK]T. Taylor Baron’s Court All Change (2011) 94: ‘I’ve got the best flash in the whole gaff’.
[UK] (ref. to 1940s) D. Mitchell Black Swan Green 312: The bones o’ more than forty years ago [...] My family’d follow Mercy Watts’s old man gaff-catchin’ round the Vale of Evesham.

2. a cheap music hall or theatre; also attrib.

[US] ‘Flash Lang.’ in Confessions of Thomas Mount 18: A playhouse [...] gaff.
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang.
[UK]J. Grant Sketches in London 160: Penny Theatres, or ‘Gaffs,’ as they are usually called.
[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 311: The only subject Billy Fortune could talk about was penny theatres. He was a constant frequenter of gaffs, and had a peculiar knowledge of the performers at them.
[UK]J. Greenwood Seven Curses of London 68: Every low district of London has its theatre, or at least a humble substitute for one, called in vulgar parlance a ‘gaff’. A gaff is a place in which, according to the strict interpretation of the term, stage plays may not be represented. The actors of a drama may not correspond in colloquy, only in pantomime.
[UK] ‘Autobiog. of a Thief’ in Macmillan’s Mag. (London) XL 500: I used to go to the Brit. (Britannia theatre) in Hoxton, or the gaff (penny music-room) in Shoreditch.
[UK]R. Rowe Picked Up in the Streets 20: We went next into a ‘penny gaff.’ Two floors of a house had been knocked into one to form a concert-room.
[US]Dly Dispatch (Richmond, VA) 1 Nov. 3/3: The detective [...] pointed out to the newspaper-man [...] a ‘gaff’, a theatre.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. 10/2: I got the thimble to church and fenced it for three cooter, and four deaners for lush for the cross coves and their blowers. We went to the gaff that night and tried to work, but spied a keen-eyed cop marking, and we guyed.
[UK]Sporting Times 5 Jan. 5/1: The usual exchange of codding enquiries as to [...] gaff business.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 110: Him as dances at the music-halls, gaffs, and theatres.
[Ind]Civil & Milit. Gaz. (Lahore) 27 Sept. 1/4: SONGS FOR THE GAFF / (By the Subaltern) / In the Shiny.
[UK]Mirror of Life 19 Jan. 11/4: It is all very well to issue advertisements similar to the old gaff productions: ‘Shall a British sailor stand by and see a shipmate in distress? Avast there, you lubbers’.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 27 Jan. 2/8: The door-keper [...] let in all the nondescript men and boys always to be found hanging around the entrance to any ‘gaff’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 3 Jan. 4/4: A band of musicians who wouldn’t pass muster at a Whitechapel ‘gaff’.
[Aus]Aus. Town and Country Jrnl 3 May 16/4: The most curious slang in the world is that of South Africa. [...] If he suspects that the play at the ‘gaff’ (theatre) is poor, he is ‘dead off’ going.
[UK]A.N. Lyons Arthur’s 289: An’ you are ole Beaky as travelled along of the gaff.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 21 Dec. 13/2: At Lamb’s gaff in Euston-road we used to have two plays running at the same time.
[UK](con. WWI) Fraser & Gibbons Soldier and Sailor Words 101: Gaff: A very common old slang term for an Entertainment, Song-Song or Concert.
[UK]G. Kersh Fowlers End (2001) 295: If I ’ad my way I’d turn the lights up, play ‘God Save the King’, and give everybody a complimentary ticket for another show. Shut the gaff for tonight.

3. a show, an exhibition.

[Scot]D. Haggart Life 22: We stopped at this place two days, waiting to attend the gaff [F&H].
[UK]T. Norman Penny Showman 76: The instigator of disorderly scenes at his gaff.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 123: As the gaff is all sold out, it is naturally a terrible predicament.
[UK]F. Norman in Sun. Graphic 10 Aug. in Norman’s London (1969) 25: I went into one of those amusement gaffs where they have a load of slot machines.

4. a brothel.

[UK] ‘The Slap-Up Blowing’ in Flash Chaunter 25: At all the gaffs she is well known, / The smartest girl upon the town, / Her lowest price is half-a-crown.

5. a prison.

[Aus]H. Nisbet Bushranger’s Sweetheart 227: Can you put me up to this other gaff.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 196: Prisoners who are rounded up in this particular section of the country [...] are usually transferred to a larger gaff after a while.
[Ire]P. Howard The Joy (2015) [ebook] [I] walked with him up to his cell, him wobbling all over the gaff.
[UK]J. Hoskison Inside 109: In the old days we’d have just thrown them off the fuckin’ landings, but now they run the gaffs.
[UK]Sun. Times News Rev. 12 Mar. 2: ‘Aitken’s got the cleanest bogs in the gaff,’ they used to say.

6. a place, an area, e.g. a street.

[UK]Binstead & Wells Pink ’Un and Pelican 53: Alight [...] Impossible! D’you want to blow the gaff up?
[UK]K. Sampson Awaydays 81: Risky gaff, Blackpool [...] For real.
[UK]N. Barlay Hooky Gear 127: Lookin at Hornsey in the rain. Just cars an houses. All just cars an houses. Hardly no point gracin the gaff with a name.
[Ire]L. McInerney Glorious Heresies 193: Australia. Now there’s a gaff I wouldn’t mind dipping my toes into.
[Ire]A. Killilea Boyo-wulf at 20 Mar. 🌐 [A] young fella bating around the gaff, sent from the lord himself [...] to help the locals.

7. a house or shop, a home.

[US]F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 7: Well, me an’ the Handshaker gets a peek at him goin’ into the gaff [i.e. an ice-cream parlor].
[US]Ade Hand-made Fables 114: He liked the Gaff. His Shack was to be a Bird.
[UK]R.T. Hopkins Life and Death at the Old Bailey 62: Other slang words used by modern bandits are: Gaff – a shop.
[UK]V. Davis Phenomena in Crime 64: A top-storey gaff.
[UK]‘Charles Raven’ Und. Nights 11: The gaff was a fair-sized house near a golf course somewhere in the Home Counties.
[UK]F. Norman in Vogue Oct. in Norman’s London (1969) 28: Usually one of the slag has got a gaff and he puts up all the others.
[UK]F. Norman Guntz 9: I moved out of this gaff where I was staying.
[UK]G.F. Newman Sir, You Bastard 249: The filth [...] was sitting there like he owned the gaff.
[UK]S. Berkoff West in Decadence and Other Plays (1985) 109: He says he don’t half fancy taking me home / back to my gaff.
[UK]M. Newall ‘Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight’ in Indep. Weekend Rev. 26 Dec. 1: What a gaffe! Coquetayle barre, Faery lyghts.
[UK]Guardian Society 13 July 🌐 The police used to invade too many gaffs, so no one likes doing it [i.e. drug-dealing] from their house.
[NZ]C. Marriner Southern Style 161: Didn’t even own ’is own gaff no more.
[Scot](con. 1980s) I. Welsh Skagboys 67: She’s finally got that new Housing Assocation gaff in the South Side.
410 ‘Kick Down Doors’ 🎵 Bare bluss tings all over the gaff.
[Ire]L. McInerney Glorious Heresies 23: ‘How are you with tiling?’ Jimmy asked. ‘I did the bathroom of my own gaff’.
[Ire]P Howard Braywatch 4: The actual gaff eventually comes into view. It’s some pile of bricks.
Central Cee ‘Tension’ 🎵 Tell the council that we don't need that flat [...] got the brand new gaff.

8. a club.

[Aus]Kalgoorlie Miner (WA) 8 May 3/1: ‘I put the thing out of my mind before night and went ter the gaff.’.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 74: The Canary Club is a very high-class gaff where the food department is really above par.
[UK]F. Taylor Auf Wiedersehen Pet Two 254: There must be worse gaffs to stumble on than this.
[UK]Observer Rev. 1 Aug. 16: Larging it over the blackjack table at John Aspinall’s gaff.
[UK]Guardian Guide 13–19 May 31: This gaff plays host to some of the slickest dresses around.

9. (UK Und.) a warehouse.

[US](con. 1910s) D. Mackenzie Hell’s Kitchen 47: A chap I knew [...] was ‘doing a woollen gaff’ (robbing a cloth warehouse).

10. a job, an occupation.

[UK](con. WWI) ‘Sapper’ Shorty Bill 158: Now in your gaff – teaching figures an’ all that sort of thing – mistakes don’t matter.
[US]H. Ellison Rockabilly (1963) 132: He won’t last past forty; the gaff’ll kill him.

11. in attrib. use of sense 9. ‘Roadman Slang 4 Jun. 🌐 Gaff - relating to a house, e.g. ‘a gaff motive’ (a house party).

12. a dance hall.

[US]‘Goat’ Laven Rough Stuff 32: In other words it was a ‘gaff’ (a slum-dance hall).

13. (UK Und.) a place chosen for a robbery.

[UK]G. Ingram Cockney Cavalcade 45: Well, I’ve got a ‘gaff’ I want to do [...] ‘Where?’ [...] ‘In Dalston.’.
[UK]P. Hoskins No Hiding Place! 190/2: Gaff. Place singled out for robbery.

14. (US Und.) a crooked casino or similar place designed to fleece innocent victims [however the root may be in the cheating, rather than the place: note senses 2-5 of gaff n.3 ; ].

[[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 242: gaff [...] a meeting of gamblers for the purpose of play, any public place of amusement is liable to be called the gaff, when spoken of in flash company who know to what it alludes].
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks.
[UK]G. Kersh Night and the City 6: One o’ these days I’m gonna do that gaff.
[UK]S. Jackson An Indiscreet Guide to Soho 92: A thriving ‘gaff’ in Soho is now being run by a notorious Dartmoor graduate.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 76/1: Gaff, n. 1. (Carnival) A special game or concession crookedly operated.

15. (also gaffe) a hotel.

[UK]G. Greene Brighton Rock (1943) 176: This gaff stinks.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 22: I reside in a tiny gaff that is called a hotel.
[UK]B. Naughton ‘The Little Welsh Girl’ in Late Night on Watling Street (1969) 135: She said she’d she’d go off and get a gaff for the night.
[UK]F. Taylor Auf Wiedersehen Pet Two 244: This is Marbella’s poshest gaff, Vicki.
[UK]T. Blacker Kill Your Darlings 81: Two-thirty at my gaffe. The Brobury. Ask for the Tower Suite.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Viva La Madness 11: What, burn the fuckin gaff down? [...] If I could get insured.

16. a bar.

[US]‘Goat’ Laven Rough Stuff 195: The first thing I done was to go down Third Avenue to Joe Daly’s gaff (speakeasy).
[Ire](con. 1970) G. Moxley Danti-Dan in McGuinness Dazzling Dark (1996) I vi: Bottles of whiskey all over the gaff.
[UK]M. Herron Secret Hours 351: [H]e couldn’t fail to notice that this wasn’t a gaff where the house wine came in jugs.

17. a restaurant.

[UK]J. Curtis They Drive by Night 25: It [tea] was so hot that he couldn’t drink it fast enough to suit him. He’d like to get out of this gaff as quick as he could.
[US]D. Runyon Runyon à la Carte 75: She is dealing them off the arm in a little eating gaff on Seventh Avenue.
[UK]A. Payne ‘You Need Hands’ in Minder [TV script] 24: There’s this new gaff up West called ‘Au Revoir Tristesse’.
[UK]Guardian G2 16 July 6: The first of Michelin-starred [...] cheaper gaffs.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 3: We’ve just had a nice bit of lunch in an Italian gaff offa Marylebone High Street.

18. (UK Und.) a prostitute’s room, where she works, but usu. does not live.

[UK]C. MacInnes Mr Love and Justice 20: I pay a Bengali eight [pounds] a week for this little gaff [Ibid.] 30: The gaff landlords and the escort-businesses that handle call-girls.
[UK]‘Dan Kavanagh’ Duffy 110: At her gaff he dropped ten pounds into a little woven basket on a dresser and got on with it.

In compounds

gaff man (n.)

(UK und.) a showman.

[UK]Flash Mirror 4: Fat Jack’s [...] where all path shavers are allowed to doss for a duce, gaff men for thrums, skin sneakers for a flag.

In phrases

blow the gaff (v.) (also gaff the blow, split the gaff)

1. to reveal a secret, esp. a hoax or deception; to inform.

[UK]Morn. Post (London) 29 Aug. 3/2: Some of his former accomplices having, to use the Old Bailey phrase, resolved to turn snitch and blow the gaff.
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 227: blow the gaff: a person having any secret in his possession, or a knowledge of any thing injurious to another, when at last induced from revenge, or other motive, to tell it openly to the world and expose him publicly, is then said to have blown the gaff upon him.
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 12: To ‘blow the gaff,’ or ‘gaff the blow,’ is to speak of, or let out the fact.
[UK]Marryat Snarleyyow I 189: And as for that ’peaching old Corporal Blubber, I’ll Wan Spitter him if ever he turns up again to blow the gaff against my own dear Jemmy.
[US]N.Y. Times and Eve. Star 4 Aug. 2/5: Ben Rose, who has just emerged from the retreat of rascals, the Baton Rouge Penitentiary [...] holds to the doctrine that there should be honor among thieves and seems therefore adverse to ‘blow the gaff’ upon his companions.
[UK]Kendal Mercury 17 Apr. 6/1: Then they blows the gaff to the newspaper coves, and the game’s up.
[UK]T. Taylor Still Waters Run Deep II ii: It’s that blackguard Bolter; he’s blowed the gaff.
[UK]J. Greenwood Little Ragamuffin 268: We’re bound to have him or they’ll have us. The gaff’s blowed!
[UK]Reade & Boucicault Foul Play I 168: Take warning [...] If you stir your eye to cross my business, I blow the gaff. I’ll introduce you to the lady under your true colours.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 122: The prisoner, burning for revenge, quietly bides his time till the chief warder comes round [...] and ‘blows the gaff’.
[UK]Henley & Stevenson Deacon Brodie III tab.V ii: Will you peach? [...] Will you blow the gaff.
[US]G. Davis Recoll. Sea-Wanderer 29: Not one of 'em will split the gaff on a friend of mine.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 2 Aug. 10/1: O Blessed Interpreter! / Scene – Suburban Police-court / Witness: ‘Prisoner said he’d plug me if I blew th’ gaff, yer Wusshup.’ / Stipendiary: ‘What does that mean?’.
[UK]Illus. Police News 24 Dec. 4/1: ‘Do you think of blowing the gaff — of splitting?’.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 10 Mar. 5/6: I thought that the gaff had been blown on that fairy-tale by now.
[UK]E.W. Hornung Amateur Cracksman (1992) 103: If our friend here is ‘copped’, [...] he means to ‘blow the gaff’ on you and me.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 14 Jan. 1/1: A relative, not liking the functionary’s attentions, blew the gaff.
[UK]D. Stewart Vultures of the City in Illus. Police News 12 Jan. 12/4: ‘I ain’t no common prig, and I ain’t going to blow the gaff or turn nose’.
[UK]Marvel 15 Oct. 16: You blew the gaff, and brought the police down on that shanty in Primrose Street last night.
[UK]C. Williams A Master of Crime 11: I rushed off to the ‘fence’ with one of the cups. [...] ‘You needn’t be afraid, my lad,’ he said cheerily. ‘I’m always willing to buy without blowing the gaff.’.
[Aus]J.M. Walsh Man behind Curtain (1931) 230: Someone’s blown the gaff, that’s what I think [...] Blown it good and hard and strong.
[UK]D.L. Sayers Nine Tailors (1984) 41: He blew the gaff and gave Deacon away.
[UK]R. Llewellyn None But the Lonely Heart 263: You blow the gaff about this, and I’ll come round here with the duffers and give the pair of you a right doing.
[Aus]D. Niland Shiralee 149: She’ll know when I blow the gaff on you.
[UK]R. Hauser Homosexual Society 34–5: The pressure brought to bear on the wives not to ‘blow the gaff’ was extreme.
[UK]A. Burgess Clockwork Testament in Complete Enderby (2002) 419: [She was] not likely to blow the sex gaff in letter or transatlantic cable.
[UK]B.S. Johnson All Bull 166: That someone blew the gaff was clear.
[UK]Flame : a Life on the Game 139: Tommy came waltzing in and declared that it was me who had blown the gaff.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 27 Aug. 2: He is desperate to get back before they blow the gaff.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 12 May 22: Toying with the idea of blowing the gaff.

2. (US) to make a mess of, to bungle.

[UK]R. Whiteing No. 5 John Street 206: Might ha’ been doing well still but the gaff was blowed by a set o’ fools.
frame the gaff (v.)

(US Und.) of a confidence trickster, to set up the room where a victim is to be fleeced.

[US]D. Maurer Big Con 129: He rented another room and framed the gaff and took the mark.
penny gaff (n.) (also threepenny gaff)

a cheap theatre or music-hall.

[UK]Crim.-Con. Gaz. 19 Nov. 271/1: I saw Miss Potter [...] at a penny-gaff, and exhibiting her handsome legs.
[UK]Sam Sly 28 Apr. 2/1: Have you forgotten the time when you played at old Hamilton's Penny Gaff, Sam has not.
[UK]J.E. Ritchie Night Side of London 38: A group of youthful costermongers and their wives, who have come here for a lark, just as they frequent the penny gaff.
[UK]J. Greenwood Seven Curses of London 67: Pitfall broadest and deepest is the theatrical exhibition, known as the ‘penny gaff’.
[UK]Belfast Morn. News 21 Feb. 4/5: His boy had [...] bad companions [...] who had frequently enticed him into a ‘penny gaff’ in the Euston Road.
[Scot]Edinburgh Eve. News 23 Mar. 2/5: [He] assaulted a woman named M’Queenie in a penny gaff on Blackfriars Street.
[Aus]C. Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 57: Pennygaff, a shop converted into a playhouse of bad repute.
[UK]M. Williams Round London 9: The ‘penny gaff’ established there was the first to be informed against by the police.
[UK]Cheltenham Chron. 2 Nov. 2/7: [headline] In Praise of the ‘Penny Gaff’.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 29 May 2/7: In all the long Whitechapel-road [...] there lingers but one ‘penny gaff’ to show what the road was like in its palmy days. Once upon a time there were nearly as many ‘gaffs’ as public houses [...] miniature theatres with Mile End smugglers for villains and Whitechapel tars for heroes.
[Aus]W.A. Sun. Times (Perth) 12 Jan. 1/1: The scramble through in busy hours resembles a Boxing Night rush at a threepenny gaff.
[UK]Manchester Courier 6 Apr. 12/4: Her narrative of poverty [...] is relieved [...] by a comical description of a ‘penny gaff’.
[UK]Marvel 4 Sept. 14: I found Bill [...] in a penny gaff on a show-ground in the Midlands.
[Scot]Eve. Teleg. (Dundee) 3 Mar. 5/3: [It] was a penny gaff, but to those of us who spent many a Saturday night there it was entertainment supreme.
[UK]G. Kersh Fowlers End (2001) 233: I think he meant to quote a play he must have seen in some penny gaff before the turn of the century.
[UK](con. 1850s–90s) G. O’Neill My East End (2000) 62: Then there were the more costly, though still affordable delights of the music halls, and, cheaper though no less fun, were the penny gaffs.