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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

CAFF, CAUF, CAUFF, Cawf, Calf, Kaff, n. Chaff; the outer husks of oats or other cereals, separated from the grain by winnowing, much used as a filling for bed mattresses. A familiar old Edinburgh cry was “Cauff for beds!” The form kaff is found in Sh., Ork. and Cai. Also used attrib. Gen.Sc. [kɑf Sc., but m.Sc. + kǫ(:)f]Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems II. 94:
For you I labour'd Night and Day . . . For you on stinking Caff I lay And Blankets thin.
Sc. 1874 A. Hislop Sc. Anecdotes 95:
No, mem. Pigs are only for gentlefolks that lie on feather beds; I sleep on cauf, with my neighbour lass.
ne.Sc. 1884 D. Grant Lays and Leg. of the North (1908) 109:
Scatterin' foes o' a' description, Just as win' wad scatter cawf.
Hdg. 1885 “S. Mucklebackit” Rural Rhymes, etc. 26:
Folk hae nae mind, when barns are bleezin' Tae riddle caff!
Ayr. 1787 Burns Address to the Unco Guid (Cent. ed.) ll. 5–6:
The cleanest corn that e'er was dight May hae some pyles o' caff in.
e.Dmf. 1912 J. and R. Hyslop Langholm as it was 636:
When the beds had received their annual replenishment of new, clean “cauff,” a chair was frequently required before one could mount into them!

Proverbial uses: 1. caff and draff is gude eneugh for aivers (Sc. 1862 A. Hislop Proverbs 42), “coarse meat may serve people of coarse conditions” (Kelly (1818)); 2. every Land has its laugh, and every Corn its ain Caff (Sc. 1737 Ramsay Proverbs 17), nothing is perfect, there are faults in everything; 3. King's Caff is worth other Fowk's Corn (Sc. 1737 Ramsay Proverbs 42), “the perquisites that attend kings service is better than the wages of other persons” (Kelly); known to Abd.2 1938; 4. “ower aul' a hen tae be trystit ben the barn wi' caff” (Abd.4 1928), too experienced to be deceived by mere show; cf. Eng. too old a bird to be caught with chaff.

Combs.: 1. caff-bed, caaf bed, cauf —, “a bed-tick filled with chaff” (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.); Gen.Sc.; 2. caff-hoose, cauf-, a compartment connected with a corn-threshing machine, which receives the chaff as it leaves the fanners of the winnower (Cai.7, Bnff.2, Abd.2, Ags.17, Fif.10, Kcb.9 1938); 3. calf-pyle, a palea (husk) of chaff; 4. caff-seck, also caufsaik. = 1. caff-bed. Also attrib. (Bnff. 1990s).1. ne.Sc. 1996 Phyllis J. Goodall in Sandy Stronach New Wirds: An Anthology of Winning Poems and Stories from the Doric Writing Competitions of 1994 and 1995 10:
An syne ye said
They gie ye affa big helpins
At fantoosh hotels.
Ah hid sic a saugh-wan figure,
It wid be a peety
If Ah turnt intil
A caaf bed tied roon the middle
Aa ower the heids o celebratin
Ye winnin the Doric Competeetion.
Mry. 1830 T. D. Lauder Moray Floods (1873) 100:
There was a cauf bed and some claes there, and that keepit huz some warm.
2. n.Sc. 1931 A.K. in Abd. Press and Jnl. (5 Dec.):
The initiation of the halflin into the mysteries of the craft and of the “horseman's word” in the cauf-hoose was merely the foundation of a liberal education.
3. Ags. 1826 Bass Drama of John o' Arnha' 32:
I've nae mair brains than a calf-pyle.
4. Cai. 1992 James Miller A Fine White Stoor 215:
Was I begotten in a nicht o steamy passion, the caff-seck rustling and snug?
Nai. 1987 David Thomson Nairn in Darkness and Light (1988) 286:
At caff-seck time we filled the mattress covers from this corner. ... it often made us laugh in despair because while she held the mouth of the bag open for me to put an armful of chaff in, a sudden gust of wind would blow the chaff away.

Phr.: caff in the ee, a disease of the eyelids in cattle popularly believed to be caused by the lodging and irritation of a piece of chaff (Abd. 1957). Cf. Howk, n.2

[O.Sc. caf(f), calf, cauf (D.O.S.T.), n.Mid.Eng. caf, caffe, O.North. *cæf; O.E. ceaf, cogn. M.L.Ger. and Mid.Du. kaf, chaff, prob. from a Gmc. root kef-, meaning “to gnaw.”]

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"Caff n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jul 2024 <>



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