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.

  6. (diverted from here)

    at least among the serious smokers/stoners i know (in the u.s.; geographically scattered but all with some connection to bigger cities), “keef”/”kief” is specifically the sticky powder of resin (and resin-producing trichomes, sez my crosscheck via duckduckgo) that contains the highest concentration of THC & CBD.

    i wonder whether that’s a recent usage (and if so, where it’s from), or whether the generic meanings are expansions of an earlier “the most intoxicating part of the cannabis plant” meaning. (but i don’t wonder enough to go on a deep dive.)

  7. January First-of-May says

    I’ve read about кейф(овать) in assorted pop-sci-esque books for children (I think in connection with кофе in one case; forgot how else it came up), and wondered why I had apparently never heard of the word otherwise. If any of those books equated the word with modern кайф, I don’t remember it.

  8. Rodger C says

    Mm, trichomes.

  9. trichomes

    I wasn’t familiar with the word; Wikipedia says it can be /ˈtraɪkoʊmz/ or /ˈtrɪkoʊmz/.

  10. kif, WIktionary:

    From Moroccan Arabic كيف‎ (kīf, “opiate”), from Arabic كَيْف‎ (kayf, “joy”).
    1. A kind of cannabis smoked in Morocco and Algeria, for narcotic or intoxicating effect.
    2. The state of relaxed stupor induced by cannabis.
    3. The trichome of marijuana, a green powdery substance that falls from dry marijuana high in THC and other cannabinoid compounds.

    This word is commonly enough used in the context of Morocco (less commonly in the context of Algeria, because English speakers visit it less often:)).

    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.

    I think the latter, and apart of Muslim groups there are Western tourists and the French. Wiktionary again:
    1. to love or like
    Je te kiffe grave. ― I love you so much.

    Wow, I did not know that it can be used this way!

  11. Maybe it is not recent, but the geographical area is different.

    I wonder how the Russian version managed to obtain the Classical vowel:/

  12. Bathrobe says

    The word is used in Mongolia, too, in the non-drug sense. I wondered how the Mongolians came to use such a Middle-East sounding word. Now I know: it came through Russian.

  13. In German, kiffen means to smoke pot or marijuana, a Kiffer is someone who does so habitually, and bekifft means “stoned from smoking drugs”. I haven’t come across a simple noun *Kiff, so I assume the original loan was the verb, maybe from French or perhaps via Dutch?

  14. I hope I remember correctly that the word was used early in Sir Richard Burton’s book about his travels to Mecca and Medina, when he was still in Egypt, and it implied a state of mental tranquility. (Which might have been the state of being stoned on hashish, but I think not, because it could be easily disturbed and lost.)

  15. You do remember correctly; from ch. 1:

    Wonderful was the contrast between the steamer and that villa on the Mahmudiyah canal! Startling the sudden change from presto to adagio life! In thirteen days we had passed from the clammy grey fog, that atmosphere of industry which kept us at anchor off the Isle of Wight, through the loveliest air of the Inland Sea, whose sparkling blue and purple haze spread charms even on N. Africa’s beldame features, and now we are sitting silent and still, listening to the monotonous melody of the East—the soft night—breeze wandering through starlit skies and tufted trees, with a voice of melancholy meaning.

    And this is the Arab’s Kayf. The savouring of animal existence; the passive enjoyment of mere sense; the pleasant languor, the dreamy tranquillity, the airy castle-building, which in Asia stand in lieu of the vigorous, intensive, passionate life of Europe. It is the result of a lively, impressible, excitable nature, and exquisite sensibility of nerve; it argues a facility for voluptuousness unknown to northern regions, where happiness is placed in the exertion of mental and physical powers; where “Ernst ist das Leben;” where niggard earth commands ceaseless sweat of face, and damp chill air demands perpetual excitement, exercise, or change, or adventure, or dissipation, for want of something better. In the East, man wants but rest and shade: upon the banks of a bubbling stream, or under the cool shelter of a perfumed tree, he is perfectly happy, smoking a pipe, or sipping a cup of coffee, or drinking a glass of sherbet, but above all things deranging body and mind as little as possible; the trouble of conversations, the displeasures of memory, and the vanity of thought being the most unpleasant interruptions to his Kayf. No wonder that “Kayf” is a word untranslatable in our mother-tongue!12

    * * *
    12. In a coarser sense “kayf” is app1ied to all manner of intoxication. Sonnini is not wrong when he says, “the Arabs give the name of Kayf to the voluptuous relaxation, the delicious stupor, produced by the smoking of hemp.”

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