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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1956 (SND Vol. IV). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

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), gyiff-gyaff.

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.
Bnff. 1990:
Gyiff-gyaff makes gweed freens.

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.
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 264:
Neither they nor most of the men could make anything of the Latin-speckled giff-gaff of the lawyers but they tolerated it from Eleis and Lockhart, because they could see that their web of words was designed to entangle the prosecution and get Mitchel off.

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 16 Jun 2024 <>



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