I was wondering if the origin of the word (cuff/ to cuff) is Arabic as it exists in Arabic, pronounced exactly the same (kaf) and has the very same meaning (folding the end part of the sleeve or/and hitting somebody with palm exactly on the face)

I did quick look in the internet and found mostly "unknown origin" to the word. I would appreciate any hints about it as I'm interested in the etymology.

  • You are officially my favorite OP of the day for doing your research before asking. And my favorite source for etymologies, Etymonline, corroborates that research: it says of unknown origin, possibly from Swedish kuffa “to thrust, push”, which being of a similar theme, borrowing from a cognate in a foreign language, makes your own theory plausible, IMO. Though of course the Arabic might’ve borrowed the English, instead of vice versa.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 13, 2019 at 11:10
  • I thought as well that it might be the other way around (English->Arabic) but still I need more evidences (for the time being can't afford researching time but I will do it very soon, it is just interesting to me)
    – wisdom
    Jun 13, 2019 at 11:23
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    Wait, this is on Meta? Weird. Hold on, we’ll migrate it to [main].
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 13, 2019 at 11:36
  • For the noun (the end of a sleeve) etymonline gives: "bottom of a sleeve," mid-14c., cuffe "hand covering, mitten, glove," perhaps from Medieval Latin cuffia, cuphia "head covering," which is of uncertain origin, perhaps ultimately from Greek.
    – Mitch
    Jun 13, 2019 at 12:20
  • 'cuff' in English is pronounced /kʌf/, which rhymes with 'tough'. The vowel is the same as in 'but' not the one in 'cot'. I make this explicit because you say that it is pronounced the same as 'kaf' and that is not the case, at least in General American English.
    – Mitch
    Jun 13, 2019 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


First, there is no necessary relationship between wearing a cuff and cuffing someone.

The Oxford English Dictionary says this about "cuff, n.1" (the clothing part):

Middle English coffe, cuffe, of uncertain origin. The word has some similarity of form to Middle Latin cuphia , cuffia , in Old English cuffie , cap, head-covering, French coiffe , coif n.; but no connection of sense appears.

Aside from having a similar form, the etymology here is inconclusive. The earliest uses in English (from 14th and 15th centuries) refer to a mitten or glove, with the sleeve-meaning appearing in the early 16th century. Here is a helpful quote showing the earlier use:

c1440 Promptorium Parvulorum 106 Cuffe, glove, or meteyne, mitta (J. ciroteca).

Attestations in the 16th century and afterward correspond to a fore-sleeve:

1522 in J. Raine Testamenta Eboracensia (1884) V. 154 My velvett jacket, to make his childer patlettes (i.e., neck garments) and cuyffes.

1594 T. Nashe Vnfortunate Traveller sig. C4 Cleane shirts and cuffes.

The hand-blow meaning is in "cuff, n.2" and "cuff, v.1," and the etymology appears just as uncertain and unrelated:

Of uncertain origin: compare German Rogues' cant kuffen to thrash (‘perhaps of Hebraic origin’, Sievers); also Swedish kuffa to thrust, push.

This meaning is first attested in the early 16th century as well:

1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 502/2 I cuffe one, I pomell hym about the heed, Je torche.

Pummelling (also in the quote as pomell) is derived from the name of an object that can be used in the action, a pommel, so it is certainly possible that cuffing is related to the name of an object that can be used in the action, a cuff (mitten or glove or sleeve; something covering the hand). There is just no firm example connecting the two, let alone a firm connection between the English cuffs and similar forms in other languages. So the similarity to Arabic could be a coincidence, or there could be an undiscovered connection via (for example) the use of German Rogues' cant.

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    Or it is plausible that Arabic borrowed 'cuff' from English/European uses, but that is probably not the case since [the etymology of كفّ ](www2.hf.uio.no/polyglotta/…) seems to be from proto-Semitic (related to the provenance of the Greek letter Kappa, borrowed from Phoenician).
    – Mitch
    Jun 13, 2019 at 14:22
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    But the connection between a blow with the hand and cloth near the wrist, though certainly not necessary or firm, is a very easy chain of metonymy (in either direction).
    – Mitch
    Jun 13, 2019 at 14:24
  • @Mitch Certainly the association is there. Given the different origins being cited, I can't rule out their being false cognates (cf. English much & Spanish mucho, which look similar but are etymologically unrelated) with some convergent evolution or folk etymology. Jun 13, 2019 at 15:03
  • @TaliesinMerlin The possibility of a false cognate in English, though, strengthens the idea that at least one of the meanings in Arabic (my money would be on the sartorial one since it seems to have appeared later) being borrowed from English.
    – BoldBen
    Jun 14, 2019 at 3:55
  • Ok, I've been searching a bit in Arabic and I got to know so far that the term has appeared in poem as far as ~13 centuries ago. Secondly, the term originally means "protecting or gathering" as it is said that a city in Iraq was built and named as "Kufa" because 1- a big mountain was surrounding the city in sense of protecting it hence the name. 2- the man who decided to build the city on that spot said to his people come and gather yourselves here hence the name. both meanings make sense for the use of the word as folding a piece of textile forming a hat to protect the head.
    – wisdom
    Jun 14, 2019 at 7:46

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