This is really two words, one of which is rather crude. The most common meaning of “naff” is that something or someone is hopelessly lacking in style, fashion sense, good taste or some similar desideratum, such as tact or common sense.

“Why the new coat — wasn’t the old one warm enough?” “Yeah, but it was a bit naff.”

This word dates from the mid-1960s.

There have been many theories as to its origins. The best supported is that it entered English from Polari, a slang used as a kind of secret language by various groups (including sailors and circus performers) at various times since the 18th century, and in use in the mid-20th century by the (then-illegal) gay community. In both senses, “naff,” though certainly slang, is relatively inoffensive: Even in polite company it is barely at all naff to use it.

Mark Wainwright is a PhD student in the linguistic department at Cambridge University. Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at:

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