Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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GIFF-GAFF, n., v. Also †gif-gaf (Sc. 1818 Scott H. Midlothian xvi.; Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 212), geef-gaff (Ags.18 1954).

I. n. 1. Mutual help, give and take; tit for tat, fair exchange (Uls. 1880 Patterson Gl.; Kcb.4 1900; Per. 1915 Wilson L. Strathearn 249). Gen.Sc.; “openheartedness, familiarity, frankness, or mutual condescension” (Abd. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems, Gl.). Also attrib. Most commonly in proverbial saying in 1832 quot. Also in Eng. dial. Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 114:
Giff gaff makes good Fellowship. Mutual Obligations improve and continue Friendship.
Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. xl.:
I played at giff-gaff wi' the officers; here a cargo ta'en — vera weel, that was their luck; — there another carried clean through, that was mine.
Sc. 1832 A. Henderson Proverbs 114:
Giff gaff maks gude friends.
Edb. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick ix.:
He said it was juist a case o' giff-gaff, or claw my back an' I'll claw yours.
Ags. 1895 Daily News (22 March) 7:
Such sentiments . . . would tend to destroy the “giff-gaff” principle of making friends.
Dmf. 1912 J. L. Waugh Robbie Doo xii.:
The price o' the flag layin' wad be a contra account. The Bailie said there was nocht in business like giff-gaff.

2. Used as two separate words in the phr. the giffs an(d) (the) gaffs, the givings and takings, the gains and losses. Ayr. 1821 Galt Ann. Parish xliii.:
As far, Mr Cayenne, as my observation has gone in this world, I think that the giffs and the gaffs nearly balance one another.
Sc.(E) 1928 J. G. Horne Lan'wart Loon 25:
Tho' nae in ony freenly deal The giffs an' gaffs had balanced weel.

3. Applied to conversation: interchange of talk, the bandying of words, repartee (m.Lth.1, Bwk.2, Ayr. 1954). Also in n.Eng. dial. Sc. 1847 J. Grant Romance of War IV. xx.:
It's ower cauld the nicht to hae ony mair giff-gaff.
Wgt. 1885 G. Fraser Poems 92:
What giff-gaff an' chaffin'.
Kcb. 1894 Crockett Lilac Sunbonnet v.:
Winsome . . . could hear the shrill “-gaff” of their colloquy.
Arg. 1907 N. Munro Daft Days xv.:
Talk about the repartee of salons! wit moves deliberately there compared with the swift giff-gaff that Kate and her lads were used to maintain.

Hence giff-gaffy, adj., on easy terms, familiar, communicative. s.Sc. 1897 J. C. Snaith Fierceheart xi.:
I ca' him Prince, Johnnie, we're that mighty cracky an' giff-gaffy thegither.

II. v. To exchange things in a friendly way, to barter; to exchange, bandy words (Inv.1, Slg.3, m.Lth.1, Bwk.2 1952). Common as vbl.n. gif(f)-gaffin'. Ayr. 1789 D. Sillar Poems 39:
I've seen chiels aft-times, i' their daffin, Sit down to tak a social chappin; But ere they raise, wi' their gif-gaffin, Hae bred a brulzie.
Edb. c.1832 Whistle-Binkie (1842) IV. 16:
A' the Tweed and the Gala, frae Kelso to Stowe, Had a' some giff gaffin' wi' Wat o' the Howe.
Lth. 1882 “J. Strathesk” Blinkbonny 131:
“We'll giff-gaff”, handing his box to the tailor, and helping himself out of Kennedy's dimpled, . . . oval-shaped tin box.
Kcb. 1898 Crockett Standard Bearer xxxiv.:
Who are you that dares “giff-gaff” with Alexander Gordon this day?

[Reduplicative form, with reciprocal force, of gif(f), the O.Sc. form of Eng. give.]

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"Giff-gaff n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 Jan 2022 <>



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