What is the antonym of "distaff"? It's not in my dictionary, but it must exist. Right?

edit By distaff I mean, "the female equivalent of something typically male", not just "female" generally. I could write "Joan Jett is the distaff Adam Ant" or "Adam Ant is the [what?] Joan Jett".

further edit no cracks about my musical ignorance.

  • 1
    If by distaff, you mean female, then the answer is male. If you have another meaning, you should say what you think it should mean.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 1:11
  • @tchrist -- edited. Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 1:20
  • It's not in my dictionary, but it must exist. Right? ... A very dodgy premise. Look up 'lacuna'; 'semantic gap'. Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 16:02
  • "Dat staff", obviously!
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 18:37

6 Answers 6


This is really just General Reference, but from Merriam-Webster...

sword side noun
the father's side of a family — compare distaff

spear side noun
: paternal; the spear side of the family — compare distaff

distaff noun
1 a : a staff for holding the flax, tow, or wool in spinning; b : woman's work or domain
2 : the female branch or side of a family

I suppose Joan Jett is the distaff Adam Ant means the female equivalent of, but although it's perfectly comprehensible, it's not at all a standard usage. If OP is happy with non-standard usages, he might as well go for Adam Ant is the puppy dog tail Joan Jet. Otherwise, male equivalent.

EDIT: I'm slightly ashamed to admit I'd never heard of Joan Jett until I came back to this answer the following day. Now somewhat wiser, I have to say that OP's usage looks exceptionally unlikely (she couldn't be further from the normal associations of distaff! :). Maybe a better way to say it...

Adam Ant is the warlock to Joan Jet's witch

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    Slightly ashamed? She founded two important rock bands, she's been in movies and she's had movies made about her. What does a girl have to do? Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 15:57
  • @Malvolio: Bite the head off a live chicken on stage, like Alice Cooper? Die young, like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse? I've only got sufficient "brain-based" memory storage for one MOR female rock singer into vegetarianism, and that slot is already occupied by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders (whose music I like much better than what I've just heard from Joan Jett on Spotify! :). Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 16:19
  • yes, if you have only one slot, use it for Chrissie, or P!nk, or Amy Lee. If you have four slots (and maybe you should) then Jett too. But dying young is for wankers, and neither Cooper nor Ozzy Osbourne ever bit the head off a chicken. Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 16:45
  • @Malvolio: I know neither of them really did it - but the possibility that they might have would have been enough to make me notice them. Anyway, Ozzy still keeps turning up on UK daytime TV, and (again, I'm slightly ashamed to admit) I can still remember watching Alice Cooper perform School's Out on Top of the Pops (sigh - those were the daze! :) Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 17:03
  • "…it's not at all a standard usage." This is in fact the only sense in which I've ever seen the word used.
    – Atario
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 12:11

Distaff, in this context, is defined as "the female branch of the family":



1a stick or spindle on to which wool or flax is wound for spinning.

2 [as modifier] of or concerning women:

marriage is still the passport to distaff power


the distaff side

the female side of a family:

the family title could be passed down through the distaff side

As stated in the full definition, the term for the male branch of the family is spear.

The dictionary definition for spear refers to "the spear side", but doesn't mention spear as meaning 'of or concerning men'.

I guess you could say that when talking about family trees, the antonym of distaff is spear, but outside of that context, there isn't an antonym.


While they call upon different linguistic roots, and have a focus that is somewhat genital (as does spear), there are several male-female pairs, such as

yang (male) as compared to yin (female)


lingam (male) in contrast/complement to yoni (female)

The comparison could be rendered "Adam Ant is the yang [or lingam] version of Joan Jett".

A punchier approach would be "Adam Ant is the yang [or lingam] Joan Jett".


My immediate thought was "staff" as I have definitely heard my father use it as the opposite of "distaff". Searching the internet for a dictionary definition relating to this use has so far proved fruitless.

It does appear that "sword side" and "spear side" are rather old antonyms of "distaff side", but there are some books, web sites and publications that use "staff and distaff", as well as someone else remembering an elderly relative using it.

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    My immediate thought was "datstaff".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 1:11

During the Middle Ages, spinning and weaving flax and wool were cottage industries. The typical division of labor was that the women spun while the men knit. So, I suppose you would put the distaff and knotting pins as a connected pair.


How about simply the word masculine?


This wasn't random, as I believe it clearly relates to the question: if distaff is taken to mean "the female equivalent of something typically male", then the desired antonym should mean "the male equivalent of something typically female", no? Honestly, 'male' is the word I would have suggested, but that's already been suggested and rejected, so I chose a related word which had yet to be suggested.

Judging by MετάEd's comment, it needs to also (or perhaps instead) express 'paternal', which changes the desired definition to be something like "the paternal equivalent of something typically female". To me, however, 'paternal' doesn't necessarily imply 'male', as it brings to table the issue of gender roles, which is, I believe, outside the scope of the question.

Distaff, being used as a modifier in phrases such as "marriage is still the passport to distaff power", would be taken to mean "of or concerning women"1. Having learned this, and using 'masculine' to mean "having qualities traditionally associated with men; manly; virile," I can see that the word doesn't quite encompass what we need for either this definition or the OP's: masculine encompasses a set of characteristics typically attributed to men, and is, to a great extent, subjective; it is not a word that is directly tied to something that is male or a male equivalent.

Having now considered the matter further, I would suggest something which builds on the root andro-, the Greek root for 'man' or 'male'. Also, perhaps, the word should end with -al, from the Latin suffix meaning 'of or pertaining to'.

  • 1
    Why masculine? How about justifying your answer and not tossing suggestions randomly. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 5:55
  • Masculine is an adjective which sometimes is applied to women (it can be uncomplimentary to do so). It means "manlike", not "male" or "paternal".
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 6:15
  • 1
    You can always edit and improve your answer. (P.S I didn't downvote but "masculine" is not good enough)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 7:45

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