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The British TV series 'Porridge'
The British TV series 'Porridge'



Listen to Professor Crystal

Naff. N-A-F-F. British slang. It means worthless, tacky, unfashionable - 'that's naff', 'the party was naff', 'those clothes are naff' - unenjoyable, of poor quality. 'Uncool', I suppose people would say these days - 'that décor is naff', 'that software is naff', 'that pub is naff'. In other words, it's used in a huge variety of circumstances as a general dismissive term, and it's also used as an expletive, to avoid the worst swear words - 'naff off!' - you hear people say, 'stop naffing about!' Now, that usage was made popular by the comedian Ronnie Barker in the television series 'Porridge', back in the 1970s. And it became very, very popular in British usage, and went right up the class system too! I mean, there's a story for instance that Princess Anne told paparazzi to 'naff off', back in 1982. At least, that's how it was reported.

The origins of the word are unclear. It might well be a gay usage. Kenneth Williams recalls it from the 1960s used by gay people, and often in a theatrical context as well. It may be an acronym meaning NAFF - not available for fun.


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