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a mistake


gaffe = der Ausrutscher, der Fauxpas; eine unbeabsichtigte Handlung oder Bemerkung, die den Verursacher in Verlegenheit bringt



"Seatbelts, jets and Coke: Rishi Sunak’s growing list of GAFFES — The prime minister promised integrity but critics have questioned this in light of some dubious decisions.”

Joe Middleton & Lisa O’Carroll - The Guardian (21st January 2023)

Did you


- an unintentional act or remark causing embarrassment to its originator

The Oxford Dictionary


The evolution of “gaffe” into the sense of an embarrassing mistake is a bit strange. One meaning of "gaff" is a stick with a metal hook used to land fish. It comes from the Provencal gaf meaning hook.

In the 19th century "gaff" was also used in the context of behaviour that is intended to deceive and is found in the expression “blow the gaff”, meaning to let out a secret. Perhaps this is where we get the sense of an embarrassing mistake.

But let’s return to metal hooks for a moment. In French, gaffe means a boat hook and in colloquial language a “blunder” (stupid mistake). It was this usage that eventually found its way into English in the early 20th century.


While working as an editor at Doubleday Publishers, the playful poet Ogden Nash was invited to the home of Mrs Frank N. Doubleday, wife of the company chairman, for tea. He later recalled that he had made a dreadful gaffe while making small-talk.

“He had admired the Doubleday dog, an English sheepdog”, David Stuart recalls in 'The Life and Rhymes of Ogden Nash'. “Mrs Doubleday had accepted his compliments graciously. Yes, he was a nice dog, but they still missed their St. Bernard, who had died a few months earlier. Yes, said Ogden, he could understand. The second really could not be like the first. Only later did he learn that this was the second Mrs. F. N. Doubleday.”


- something said or done that is socially upsetting or incorrect

awkward moment, boo-boo, botch(up), bloomer, blooper, bonehead play, brick, bungle, clanger, clinker, clodhoppery, clunker, cockup, epic fail, faux pas, foul-up, fumble, GAFFE, gaucherie, goof(up), howler, lapsus linguae, lead balloon, lemon, mess-up, oopsie daisy, oops moment, putting one’s foot in it, slip(-up), slip of the tongue, social blunder, snafu, whoops

SMUGGLE OWAD into an English conversation, say something like:

“He made such a huge GAFFE that it was worthy of a double-take, a facepalm, and an eye-roll all at once.”

THANKS to Helena for suggesting today’s word.

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