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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"make neat or spruce," 1877 (with up or out), probably from spiffy (q.v.). Spiffing "excellent" was very popular in 1870s slang.


n. 1 (context uncountable English) Attractiveness or charm in dress, appearance, or manner 2 (context countable dated English) A well-dressed man 3 (context countable sales jargon English) A bonus or other remuneration, given for reaching a sales goal or promoting the goods of a particular manufacturer. Originally from textile retailing, a percentage given for selling off surplus or out-of-fashion stock, of which the sales person could offer part as a discount to a customer. 4 (context countable colloquial Jamaica English) a hand-rolled marijuana cigarette; a joint vb. 1 (usually with ''up'') to make spiffy (attractive, polished, or up-to-date) 2 to reward (a salesperson) with a spiff. 3 to throw.


n. attractiveness in appearance or dress or manner; "he gets by largely on pure spiff"


A spiff, or spiv is an immediate bonus for a sale. Typically, spiffs are paid, either by a manufacturer or employer, directly to a salesperson for selling a specific product. It is sometimes given as SPIF or SPIFF with invented words to fit the letters, but these are not the origin (see below).

Spiff (disambiguation)

Spiff, SPIFF, or SPIF may refer to:

  • Spiff, a small, immediate bonus for a sale
  • Spiff (UNIX), a text comparison tool
  • The Spacecraft Planetary Imaging Facility (SPIF) at Cornell University, a NASA Regional Planetary Image Facility
  • XSPF (XML Shareable Playlist Format), a data format
  • JPEG Still Picture Interchange File Format (SPIFF)

In fiction:

  • Spaceman Spiff (Calvin and Hobbes), a figment of Calvin's imagination in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes
  • Spiff and Hercules, a comic strip (Pif et Hercule in French)

Usage examples of "spiff".

He stood up and at the same moment Spiff flung open the door and strode theatrically into the room.

It was here that Spiff had asked the other stewards of the High Street to meet him, and as it was a special meeting any other Bor-rible who wanted could come and listen and eventually make comments, if he wished.

The stewards behind Spiff took their seats and leaned forward attentively.

But there are others of a different stamp, and they ran back to the market directly from the meeting, stole some paper and, without delay, sat down and wrote a note to Spiff begging for the position.

He would have admitted to no one, apart from Spiff perhaps, that he was flabbergasted.

Knocker removed their hats and Knocker tore each name separately from the sheet that Spiff had given him.

By chance it was the one he had recommended to Spiff, the Battersea Borrible from the Lavender Hill nick.

It was the beginning of the rest period and Spiff walked around the room talking to the Borribles who were stretched out on their sleeping-bags dozing with their eyes only half open.

They went first to report to Spiff about the boat and he was delighted.

He was apt to make obvious remarks, was Spiff, but he only did it when he was feeling very friendly or pleased with himself.

They wanted Spiff to say what he had to say and then let them get on with it.

Knocker shuffled his feet and wished Spiff would stop making a speech and let everyone go.

With a nod for Spiff and a nervous smile for Knocker they left the room one by one.

As he changed in great haste Spiff talked to him, for he had much to say before Knocker left.

He knew from Spiff that the Chief Wendle had a reputation for meanness and double-dealing.