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"Naff" is a word I infrequently use as a mild version of "shit". If something is a little bit bad or dull, it is "naff". I have just come across (via The Slate Gabfest podcast) one of the alleged roots of the word giving a ruder etymology: "not available for f***ing." This is backed up as a possible etymology here.

Is this word ruder than I though?

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Its origin is probably backward slang from fanny (vagina) so possibly ruder than people think. –  mgb May 19 '11 at 4:46
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@MartinBeckett: I can think of one commonly used word that is much ruder than people think – the word bugger. Though these days, people say bugger off as a milder version of f... off. –  bracho monacho Jul 17 '11 at 2:55
    
@branco - "Sod off" would also fall into that category. –  dave Jul 17 '11 at 23:08
    
@branco - Yes, and 'piss off' too. –  5arx Oct 31 '11 at 11:53
    
@5arx - I feel there is a bit of a hierarchy with swear words. For example: { anal sex | incest } > sex > defecation > urination. I'm not sure where religion or sexual orientation fits in here, it depends upon the people involved. This would have "sod off" as significantly worse than "piss off". –  dave Nov 1 '11 at 6:33
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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

In a list of the rudest words in Britain, naff didn't place in the top 28. Certainly to my ears it's inoffensive.

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Princess Anne famously told photographers to Naff off- so it is by royal appointment

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Naff is a formal way of avoiding to pronounce the F-word.

It is usable in all situations involving fuck except the actual intercourse itself.

How rude it is depends of course a lot on the intonation and the circumstances but it is usually mild (especially considering how common fuck is nowadays). It is definitely less rude than fuck.

Here are a few entries from the authoritative Partridge dictionary of slang. Note how naff is used as a substitute for fuck in such expressions as "naff of" or "naffed up".

naff adjective vulgar, bad, unlovely, despicable; generally contemptible; when used in gay society it may mean heterosexual. Theatrical and CAMP origins but the actual derivation is disputed; possibly an acronym for ‘not available for fucking’, ‘not a fuck’ or ‘normal as fuck’; or a play on the military acronym NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) as ‘no ambition and fuck-all interest’; otherwise it may originate as back slang for FANNY (the vagina or the buttocks), a shortening of ‘nawfuckingood’ or in the French phrase rien à faire (nothing to do) UK, 1965

naff used as a euphemism for ‘fuck’ (in all senses except sexual intercourse/to have sex) UK, 1977

naffette; naffeen adjective vulgar, bad, despicable, unlovely. Polari; CAMP variations of NAFF UK, 1992

naffing adjective used as a euphemism for ‘fucking’. Extended from NAFF UK, 1959

naff it up verb to spoil something UK, 1981

naff off verb to go away. From NAFF; made very familiar in the UK during the 1970s by the prison-set television situation comedy, Porridge, written by Clement and La Frenais. Perhaps the social highpoint of this word’s history was during the 1982 Badminton Horse Trials when Princess Anne (now Princess Royal) asked the press, ‘Why don’t you just naff off?’ UK, 1982
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Thanks. BTW: I didn't say it comes from "shit", rather it seems to be used as "as a mild version of 'shit'". For example: "'Return of the Jedi' was a bit naff but 'Episode 1' was shit.". –  dave May 19 '11 at 18:51
    
@dave, Sorry. My misunderstanding. I've heard that a lot: "episode such and such was a bit naff". –  Alain Pannetier Φ May 19 '11 at 22:05
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I've never used the word "naff" as meaning anything other than "a bit rubbish". When I was at school I had a "naf naf" pencil case. Felt a bit naughty. –  Matthew Rudy Jun 16 '11 at 8:02
    
@Matthew. For your information, Naf naf is a French clothing brand aimed at the teenager market. It's supposed to be trendy but the people who selected this name probably did not know what the English word meant. The origin of the name is almost certainly the name of the "practical pig" in the French version of Walt Disney's "Three little pigs". The characters of the French version are named Nif-Nif, Naf-Naf and Nouf-Nouf. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jun 16 '11 at 9:19
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It's worth adding that the reason it was made familiar by Porridge is precisely because it's relatively inoffensive. It's hard to believe that career criminals like Fletcher wouldn't swear, but realistic speech wouldn't be allowed on a family sit-com. Ronnie Barker himself (the actor who played Fletcher) came up with naff off as a substitute for fuck off, piss off and similar, and claims he was unaware of earlier meanings, though he could well have unconsciously picked it up from theatre Polari at some point. –  Jon Hanna Feb 13 at 11:45
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In my neck of the woods (SouthEast UK), naff almost exclusively means uncool, tacky, unfashionable, worthless silly, lacking taste. I must have heard it used thousands of times by hundreds of different people, and on a "rudeness" scale it's no different to any of those synonyms (i.e. - it's a bit slangy, but not at all "rude").

When Princess Anne told some photographers to "Naff Off!", it was much-reported at the time. I never knew of that usage before then, and I haven't heard it since except in parody of that royal original. I've always assumed that was just a very local idiom used only by a small (albeit exhalted) upper-class social clique.

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It's not that widely used any more, but isn't in any sense obscure. It seems to be considered fit for print and broadcast in "quality" media. Over all, not considered rude (beyond indicating something is in poor quality or taste), notwithstanding any etymology.

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The Guardian is certainly quality media, and is famous for being perfectly happy to print far ruder words than naff. –  TRiG Jun 16 '11 at 21:27
    
I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. –  Marcin Jun 16 '11 at 23:19
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Just that being "fit for print" doesn't necessarily mean a word isn't rude. Still, naff isn't rude. –  TRiG Jun 17 '11 at 9:44
    
The Guardian used to be a quality paper. –  5arx Jan 20 '12 at 11:08
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