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Difference Between Coif and Quaff


While the words ‘coif’ and ‘quaff’ sound alike, they have very little in common. They mean different things, come from different languages, and one is predominantly a verb while the other is predominantly a noun. Still, because they’re homophones, people often mix them up if they have only ever heard the words spoken.

‘Coif’, also spelled ‘coiffe’, is a word borrowed from French. The most popular form of the word is the noun. It refers to a few different things that cover the head. The first means a hairstyle. It is not any particular type of hairstyle, but the general word for it. The word usually means a hairstyle for women, but it can mean hairstyles for both genders.

The second meaning is a particular type of cap. It is very close-fitting and covers the top, back, and sides of the head. There was a variation made of chainmail, which served as armor for the head and typically covered everything except the face, as well as the neck and shoulders.

One notable use of them was to distinguish judges. Coifs were common headdresses for judges in the medieval time, specifically for a serjeant-at-law. They were required to wear the coif at all times, even in front of the king, though they covered it with a black cap while passing death sentences. Later on, the fashion for all judges changed so that long, flowing wigs were the regular headwear. This caused some trouble for serjeants, as they were not allowed to cover the coif except during death sentences. However, some wigmakers added circles of white fabric to the wigs to represent the coifs.

‘Coif’ is also a verb. ‘To coif’ is to style or otherwise arrange hair.

“She wanted her hair perfectly coifed.”

Nobody can clearly trace the origin of the word ‘quaff’, but the closest relatives seem to be Germanic. It is normally used as a verb. The meaning of the word is to enthusiastically drink, usually referring to an alcoholic drink, whether that means to enjoy drinking very much or to drink large amounts, or to drink a lot at a time.

“He quaffed down half a keg of beer.”

“He quaffed it down so fast that he choked on it.”

The noun form of the word means the act of quaffing a drink.

“Take a quaff of it.”

Neither of them is very commonly used. It’s much more common to use a synonym for it, like ‘gulp’, ‘swig’, or ‘chug’, though ‘quaff’ is the more refined and poetic word.

The two words are pronounced the same way: they rhyme with ‘off’ and have a ‘kwuh’ sound at the beginning. When in a conversation, the best way to tell the two apart is to think about the context. For one thing, it is much more common to hear ‘coif’ as a noun and ‘quaff’ as a verb. Otherwise, the thing they are referring to is probably going to be obvious since ‘coif’ refers to something on the head and ‘quaff’ refers to drinking. It’s unlikely to find a quaff on someone’s head, unless someone spat a mouthful of a drink onto them.

To summarize, ‘coif’ means something that covers the head, meaning either a hairstyle or a cap that covers all of the head except for the face. ‘Quaff’ means to drink something with a lot of enthusiasm. They are commonly confused because they are pronounced the exact same way, but it is more likely to hear ‘coif’ as a noun and ‘quaff’ as a verb.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you! That was a very clear definition of each word. Much appreciation, Michele

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