My mother (from Charleston, South Carolina) uses the word "giffy" (spelling unknown; hard g sound) for airborne salt spray that gets all over cars, windows, and (in extreme cases) power lines when you have a windy day near a body of salt water. [Actually the day doesn't have to be locally windy if you are near the surf, which can put salt spray into the air using the strength of winds far away.] Unfortunately my google-foo was insufficient to prove that this word, with this meaning, actually exists.

Is this term used outside my immediate family, and/or does it have an obvious heritage from better-known terms?

  • If it's not of African origin, it could be from old germanic/french origin, where Geifer/givrer used to mean spit, saliva, cruel in old germanic/frisian/saxon/frankish, and later meant cold and frosty "Girvré" in French: fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/…. May 20, 2021 at 8:57
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    "My mother (from Charleston, South Carolina) uses the word "giffy" Therefore, it is indeed a real word. Adding this as a comment, since you seem interested in use outside of your family. But I wanted to point out that, in a certain sense, all words are "real".
    – Zack
    May 20, 2021 at 14:13
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    @Zack: I think you need to show some spread of usage. Words need to communicate information; if the only people who receive information from the use of a word live in the same household, and learned it from just one member who made it up, it's not really useful for communicating an idea. My family uses "butnin" (childish mispronunciation of "button") to mean "My name is <child's name> and I want my daddy to tickle me" (sort of an in-joke), but it's not a "word" in any meaningful sense. May 20, 2021 at 22:46
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    @ShadowRanger: I see your point, and don't completely disagree. I certainly think it's helpful to talk about how widespread a word is (in place/time). And, considering that words are meant to allow us to communicate with each other, they're not very useful if no one else knows them. But I also hate the prescriptivist attitude that precludes individuals (or whole groups of people) from discourse.
    – Zack
    May 21, 2021 at 0:43
  • Made-up words can certainly BECOME real words if their usage catches on, but it's not really true that any made-up word is a glodfibbler.
    – barbecue
    May 21, 2021 at 12:12

3 Answers 3


Okay, it seems to mean cloudy or damp. American Dialect Society's South Carolina Word List has an entry.

giffy [ˈɡɪfɪ]: adj. Cloudy and damp, applied to the weather. Origin undetermined, possibly African.

giffy [ˈɡɪfɪ]: adj. Cloudy and damp, applied to the weather. Origin undetermined, possibly African.

And from Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands by Lidia Parrish.

... even Dr. Turner is puzzled by "giffy", which on Sapelo means damp.

"Even Dr. Turner is puzzled by "giffy", which on Sapelo means damp."

Weirdly, I found these guessing there might be a Gullah connection, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

From Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking edited by Lettie Gay. (Never fail to check local cookbooks for odd words.)

Pie crust doesn't turn out well in "giffy" weather, for flour, even flour stored in a heated house, absorbs moisture.

"Pie crust doesn't turn out well in "giffy" weather, for flour, even flour stored in a heated house, absorbs moisture."

I can't help but wonder if the much more common iffy weather isn't the version that caught hold.

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    Interestingly, I have an aunt (mother's sister) who lived on Sapelo for a while. May 20, 2021 at 0:45

According to The Dictionary of American Regional English, giffy (page 672) is a variant of the more common term givey (page 684), meaning:

(of things) be covered with moisture; become moist or soft from damp. (Chiefly Mid and South Atlantic)

I think the above sense is close to the usage of your family.

  • It looks like that definition applies to a form "give" (verb), from which "givey" (adj) is derived. Still, +1. May 19, 2021 at 21:35

The word may be related to givey, a South Midland dialect word with several related meanings (here from Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English (2021), via Word Reference):

  1. (esp. of soil) moist, soft, or spongy

  2. unsteady; rickety: That chair is getting a little givey.

  3. (of weather) misty, rainy, or humid; damp.

Similarly, Robert Hendrickson in The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms defines givey as "Moist, muggy, soft. 'The weather's givey today.' " This meaning may go back to the 19th century, as an entry for givey ("humid") has been traced back to unpublished notebooks titled "Americanisms, Anglicisms, etc etc" kept by South Carolina College professor Francis Lieber between 1849 and 1851 (Stewart Davis, "Francis Lieber's Americanisms as an Early Source on Southern Speech," LAVIS).

So your mother's usage may be an extension of that meaning: the misty, damp salt spray that comes off the water during a windy day would be givey.

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    Presumably senses 1 and 2 come from give meaning "the quality of stretching, bending, or breaking, or becoming less firm or tight, under pressure"; I wonder if 3 is an extension of meaning 1.
    – Stuart F
    May 20, 2021 at 10:14

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