Renee of has a very interesting entry today on the Russian word that was originally keif and is now kaif (when and why did it change?); it’s from the Arabo-Persian keyf ‘opiate; intoxication; pleasure, enjoyment’ (borrowed into English in various forms, listed in the OED as kef ‘a state of drowsiness or dreamy intoxication, such as is produced by the use of bhang; the enjoyment of idleness; dolce far niente’). The word was used by Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, and others, but it’s come down in the world, as Renee says:

Today ‘kajf’ is famous from the jargon of narkomany (drug abusers), where it can denote any drug. But kajf is in no way limited to drug culture. Poimal kaif/slovil kaif lit. “caught some kajf” is “I had fun”. The expression v kaif as in eto mne v kaif ‘this is fun to me’ is extremely prolific (about 790 Google hits today). Two frequent verbal formations from kajf [are] kajfovat’ “to have fun/ to be high” and kajfanut’ “to get high”.

Incidentally, shortly after the entry kef in the OED comes kehaya ‘a Turkish viceroy, deputy, agent, etc; a local governor; a village chief.’ You’d never know it, but it turns out to be from Persian katkhuda ‘viceroy, vicar, deputy,’ which itself is perfectly straightforward: kad ‘house’ + khuda ‘master.’


  1. Cannabis is sometimes called kiff over here. Which at least sounds as though it’s from the same root. (Or perhaps it’s among the “borrowed into English in various forms… sorry, short term memory loss setting in)

  2. Yeah, I’m sure that’s the same word; the interesting question is whether it’s the same word that was borrowed 200 years ago or whether it’s a new borrowing from one or another of the Muslim groups that have immigrated in recent decades.

  3. Thank you Mr Languagehat
    The word is also a part of Bosnian colloquial vocabulary. It is spelled cef (with an acute accent on the C). It is most commonly used in the idiom “nije mi cef” = “I don’t feel like it” (lit. it is not “cef” to me).
    Now I know the etymology of it.

  4. Heh, and it’s my real first name as well. What fun 🙂

  5. Kobi Haron says:

    In Hebrew Keif is slang for fun and also state of intoxication from Hashish/ Marijuana. I have always assumed this word came down from Arabic, but now I see its origin can be Russian.

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