I recently had a musing which I thought I’d share with you. I was thinking about houses in general, when the term ‘my gaff’ came to mind, and from that came a curious thought;
where did the word ‘gaff’ come from?
I researched this term and the first relevant piece of information I came across was a definition of the word saying that a gaff is a public place of entertainment, especially cheap music halls or theatres…It was a colloquial term used for a fair first recorded in 1753, and then it became a word used for any place of public entertainment around 1812 or so, and then it was extended to ‘penny gaff’ in the 19th century.
A penny gaff was entertainment consisting of a short performance on a stage wherever space permitted for lower classes in England (be that in a hall somewhere or even a back room). This performance was quite unsophisticated; the ‘props’ if you can call them that, were frequently no more than the piano and stage. The performances varied, including clowning, dancing and singing. They were usually easy to perform and well-known with exciting stories; deeds of famous robbers, murderers and the like were very popular subjects for the plays which took place at these events. As these gaffs became more popular more spacious venues opened their doors to them.
Londoners started to compare the pub with a cheap entertainment upstairs with any particular building, especially a house. Hence the word ‘gaff ‘ being widely associated with ‘house’ in the UK.
So be careful when describing your home as a ‘gaff ‘, as when you go home you could be returning to an audience in your living room expecting an entertaining performance!
Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics.