DISTAFF, in the early forms of spinning, the "rock" or short stick round one end of which the flax, cotton or wool is loosely wound, and from which it is spun off by the spindle. The word is derived from the Old English distaef, the first part of which is connected with dizen, in modern English seen in "bedizen," to deck out or embellish, originally "to equip the distaff with flax, etc.," cf. the German dialectal word Diesse, flax. The last part of the word is "staff." "Distaff" from early times has been used to symbolize woman's work (cf. the use of "spinster" for an unmarried woman); thus the "distaff" or "spindle" side of a family refers to the female branch, as opposed to the "spear" or male branch. The 7th of January, the day after Epiphany, was formerly known as St Distaff's day, as women then began work again after the Christmas holiday.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)