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Distaff

A woman. Properly the staff from which the flax was drawn in spinning. The allusion is to the ancient custom of women, who spun from morning to night. (See Spinster.)

“The crown of France never fails to the distaff.” —Kersey.

To have tow on the distaff. To have work in hand. Froissart says, “ Il aura en bref temps autres estoupes en sa quenouille.

He haddë more tow on his distaf
Than Gerveys knew.

Chaucer: Canterbury Tales. 3.772.

St. Distaff's Day.
The 7th of January. So called because the Christmas festival terminated on Twelfth Day, and on the day following the women returned to their distaffs or daily occupations. It is also called Rock Day, a distaff being called a rock. “In old times they used to spin with rocks.” (Aubrey, Wilts.)

Give St. Distaff all the right,
Then give Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocatiön.

(1657)

What! shall a woman with a rock drive thee away?
Fye on thee, traitor' 

Digby: Mysteries, p.11.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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