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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

NYAFF, v., n. Also nyaf, n(i)aff, njaf(f), knyaff, gniaf(f), gnaff; nyeff (Rnf. a.1850 Crawfurd MSS. (N.L.S.) N. 27); reduplicative form nyaff-nyaff, freq. form n(y)affle, and, for the n., dim. or deriv. forms neaphle, n(y)affet, neffit, nyeffet, njaf(f)in, -ek. Cf. Niff-naff. [njɑf]

I. v. 1. To talk in a senseless, pert, or frivolous way (Cld. 1880 Jam.), to talk and argue snappishly, esp. of children (Sc. 1808 Jam.); to harp on (about something) (Sh. 1964); of a small dog: to yelp, yap, bark (Ib.; Fif. c.1850 R. Peattie MS.; Cai. 1907 County of Cai. (Horne) 80, niaff; Ayr. 1964). Vbl.n., ppl.adj. n(y)affin(g), frivolous, trifling, or snappish talk (w.Sc. 1868 Laird of Logan, Add. 511; Kcb.3 1929); yelping, yapping, snappish in talk (Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I.115).Sc. 1826 Wilson Noctes Amb. (1855) I. 238:
Siccan a barkin, . . . and nyaffin, and snaffin, and clankin o' chains frae them in kennels.
Ayr. 1887 J. Service Dr. Duguid 253:
He had a bit nyaffin' voice in the heid o' him that was aye clippin' cloots wi' somebody.
Ags. 1892 Brechin Advertiser (30 Aug.) 3:
Ye needna . . . be aye nyaff-nyaffin' at me for nae makin' up to Mary Penny.
Rnf. 1898 J. M. Henderson Kartdale 93:
Sic critics . . . are sure to pock-mark him wi' their 'nyaffin.
Ayr. 1913 J. Service Memorables 21:
Nae ringle-eed or nyaffin whalp was he.
Dundee 1994 Matthew Fitt in James Robertson A Tongue in Yer Heid 178:
The young lad hud goat himsel fankilt up in a dug's lead, a wee scottie nyaffin at his feet an a bowsie wyfie wi a blue rinse yappin at him tae hae mair mennirs, ...

Hence naffy, talkative, chatty, affable.s.Sc. 1897 J. C. Snaith Fierceheart xii.:
We took wine thegither . . . we waur that mazing naffy.

2. To work feebly and ineffectually, to trifle (Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 119, nyaff(le)). Vbl.n. nyaffin, nyafflan (Gregor), idling, wasting time, trifling (Ib., Bnff. c.1927), ppl.adj. nyaff(l)in(g), idle, insignificant, contemptible, trifling (Gregor).Lth. 1825 Jam.:
Had your tongue, ye nyaffing thing.

3. To walk with short steps.Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 119:
The shultie cam nyafflin' up the rod.

II. n. 1. The pert talk of a child or smallsized person, the yelp or bark of a small dog (Sc. 1808 Jam.).

2. Anything small of its kind (Lth. 1825 Jam., gnaff; Bnff. 1866 Gregor D. Bnff. 119, nyaff(le), Bnff. 1927), a trifle, a thing of no value (Dmf. 1825 Jam., neaphle); a puny, dwarfish, insignificant person, a small, conceited, impudent, chattering fellow (Sc. 1808 Jam., neffit; Fif., Ayr. 1825 Jam., knyaff; Rnf. 1837 Crawfurd MSS. XI. 320, n(y)affet, nyeffet; Cai. 1907 County of Cai. (Horne) 80; Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), njaf(f); w.Sc. 1949, naffet; m.Sc. 1964), a spoilt, ill-bred child (Jak., njaf(f)in, -ek); a term of contempt for any unpleasant or objectionable person, a chit, a good-for-nothing, a fool (Bnff.8 c.1920; Arg. 1936 L. McInnes Dial. S. Kintyre 15; Edb. 1936 F. Niven Old Soldier 27; Gall. 1943 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 112; m.Sc. 1964).Sc. 1814 C. I. Johnstone Saxon & Gael I. ix.:
What are ye seeking for the piece o' thae bits o' gnaffs, my woman?
Lnk. 1862 D. Wingate Poems 73:
Ye ape-faced nyaff.
Lth. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick iii.:
I no' think we've waled sic a puir gnaff after a'.
Gsw. 1904 H. Foulis Erchie xvii.:
A lot o' nyafs in the back sates aye began to heave orange-peelin's at folk.
Arg. 1912 N. Munro Fancy Farm x.:
Her standard of the sex being Peter Powrie whom she sometimes called “a gniaf! a perfect gniaf.”
Rnf. 1928 G. Blake Paper Money 65:
To skelp the backside o' that eldest boy o' yours. He's a lazy big nyaf.
Gsw. 1947 H. W. Pryde 1st Bk. McFlannels 1:
He never knew before what a bandy leggit shauchly wee nyaff his brother was.
m.Sc. 1954 J. D. Scott The End of an Old Song (1990) 141:
'I wouldn't threaten a nyaff like you,' ...
Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 50:
nyaff A lovely expressive word for a (usually small) annoying or contemptible person: 'Get aff ya nyaff!'
m.Sc. 1989 James Meek McFarlane Boils the Sea 63:
'... There's no point in hoping for the other kind of change, that's not for yourself and can't be for me, but's maybe for some wee upstart nyaff newcomer, that getting pregnant? ...'
Dundee 1991 Ellie McDonald The Gangan Fuit 33:
' ... We'll fill the nyaff up wi whisky an waater,
wyse up the wife intae takin a pairt,
syne whan he's dozent wi drink, it's nae maitter
tae skaigh back yer arle frae yon bunnet-laird.'
wm.Sc. 1991 Bill Sutherland in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 146:
Gaun, cleek yer new lodd, show him aff,
make gled eyes it his gallus chaff,
fur Ah've clockt he's a sleekit nyaff -
bit don't come runnin back tae me.
Edb. 1999:
She's no gonnae mairry that shilpit wee nyaff!
m.Sc. 2000 Herald 6 Mar 16:
Snapshots of days spent doggin' school, late nights spent queueing for chips, taxis, and buses, crabbit wee nyaffs of pawn-brokers ...
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 82:
'I don't think ye're being very nice,' said the guy. He stood up, and Carlin saw for the first time what a puny, insignificant, shilpit wee nyaff he really was.

Deriv. nafferel, an insignificant-looking person (Bwk. 1919 T.S.D.C.), a scamp, wretch, good-for-nothing (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.), a tricky, mischievous, little fellow (Rxb. 1919 T.S.D.C.). Also used adj. = insignificant-looking (Sc. 1911 S.D.D. Add.).

[Prob. orig. imit. of the bark of a small dog. The forms in -et, -it corresp. to n.Eng. dial. naff-head, a blockhead.]

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



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