Categories: Essays

Kerouac’s Quiff

In Jack Kerouac’s book Vanity of Duluoz he refers to women as quiffs, which in my estimation, is too close to the modern day queef for there not to be any connection.

From Quiff to Queef?

Thinking I might be onto a word origin history lesson, otherwise known as etymology, I turned to my mother, who was born in 1948. If quiff as “woman” was some sort of retired expression, not used since the early 1970’s (Duluoz was published in 1967) or thereabouts, surely, in its heyday, she would have heard it.

“Mom, have you ever heard women being described as quiffs?”

“No,” she answered, “What’s a quiff?” which everyone really should have their moms ask them at least once.

“Never mind,” I said. “Just a word in a book.”

Something had happened after the publishing of Duluoz to transform Kerouac’s definition of quiff as “female” to our current definition of “female’s queef”- some kind of seismic quiff shift.

Obviously, there is a slight visual difference between Kerouac’s quiff and what we know now as the usually sexually related vaginal air release queef.  When Kerouac’s quiff lost dibs on describing the complete female form, it gained some sort of reparative double e f.

Taking into consideration that Jack Kerouac was French- Canadian and that quiff may have been a geographical colloquialism, I called up my old friend Jacque who calls Canada home.

“Jacque, do you know what a queef is?”

“Yes,” he answered suspiciously.

“In your homeland, have you ever heard women being referred to as quiffs?”

“No, but I’ve referred to women myself as the orifice from which queefs originate.”

“What would you think a quiff might be then?”

“A queef you can sniff?”

“That is really gross. You have offended me to my very core.”

Deciding that maybe Jacque just wasn’t continental enough for my purposes, I turned to an online French to English Dictionary, typing in quiff.

The dictionary just coughed up what matched quiff the closest- The Canadian city of Quebec.

I’d taken my inquiries to the street (my mom), the locals (Jacque) and the internet (online dictionary). I was about to give up when I caught the nightly news and heard about a scientific development that has inspired me to continue my search.

Scientists everywhere are celebrating the discovery of a fossil they call Ira, hailing it as the missing link between our primate past and primate present.

As I hope to someday find the missing link that will connect Kerouac’s quiff past to our vart queef present, I feel a solidarity with this discovery. I will soldier on. If you know anything, email me.

Fiona Helmsley

Fiona Helmsley is a writer of creative non-fiction and poetry. Her first book There Are A Million Stories In The Naked City When You’re A Girl Who Gets Naked In The Naked City was released in 2010. Her writing can be found in various anthologies like How Dirty Girls Get Clean and Air In The Paragraph Line and online at websites like Jezebel and The Rumpus. She can be reached through her blog Flee Flee This Sad Hotel at

View Comments

  • oh my gosh, it was just brought to my attention that kerouac actually spells this word "quiff," not "quef."

    i have no idea how i confused the two. though the words are close, most of my research and investigation goes out the door in light of this discovery.

    my most sincere and humble apologies.

    fiona helmsley

    • Dear Fiona,
      haha...funny...i started to do some heavy research into it when you first posted and had been meaning to reply with what i had learned about quebec slang after an exhaustive search for the word.
      i am actually relieved that you found the mistake because i thought i was on the verge of an answer but never could quite pin it down in a positive manner.
      nonetheless, we appreciate the fact that you brought your observation here and that you are thinking of interesting thoughts and most certainly invite you to post more...just to show we did not write you off and took the question seriously, let me show you how far i got until i was distracted to another project...but did mean to come back to this. it is on my list, or now i shall say was on my list. the following is from an email i wrote discussing it...
      if nothing else, this goes to show how seriously we take our readers and how much effort we put into trying to help!

      see this gets deeper, thare is a variation of french known as verlan, which is a slang used by criminals and beat types, seems like.
      examples are...
      un keuf (now feuk) verlan of un flic
      meaning: police officer (equivalent to cop, copper, pig)
      which is very close to
      une meuf verlan of une femme
      meaning: woman, wife
      un quèm verlan of un mec
      meaning: guy
      Verlan was invented as a secret language, a way for people (notably youths, drug users, and criminals) to communicate freely in front of authority figures (parents, police). Because much of verlan has become incorporated into French, verlan continues to evolve - sometimes words are "re-verlaned." Beur, commonly heard in the 1980's, has been reversed again to reub. Keuf has been re-verlaned to feuk, with a bonus - it now resembles a vulgar word in English.

      see, why is it important?...if kerouac did say it. we have not even verified it is in the Vanity of D, did we?...but if he did say it, i think it is on us to know why...i seem to be closing in with the alternate quebecouis dictionary...i am wondering if he used quem (funny because quim is a word for vagina) and if you take off the 'm', which could denote 'male' and put the 'f' on the end...which could be for female, as it is used in 'meuf' (muff being still another word for it)...

      we could say this is funny and leave it at that but it leaves me to think of all the kerouac scholars who did not catch this and if it is in there and we are the Beat source of record and this is brought to our attention, it is actually serious business to solve it. she writes it as a jokey kind of thing but academically, she is posing us with a challenge. she meant to be silly in the way she wrote it but she is also serious as to not knowing...i think we should know and it is a very interesting question, on a level above the vulgar...
      i do not think we should just write it off. i think we should figure out what kerouac DID mean - if that is our business. it is Beat history as well as queef history, since no such word used by kerouac appears as such in a dictionary that i can find so far...if that is the case and it takes hours of study and a solid conclusion, then i think it deserves to be in the print version with an explanation...

  • Maybe the writer of this article would be more successful at her art if she took ten seconds like I did to look up 'Quiff' in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary).

    It took me an entire ten seconds to trace the word 'quiff' all the way back to the 17th century.

    I don't like Flake Beats who make the rest of us look like idiots.

    John Vincent
    Boulder, CO.

  • "Flake Beats who make the rest of us look like idiots?" What? This essay is an attempt at humor. Please. I doubt anyone but you thinks me or this essay is a representation of anything else. Geez. Chillax. "Everybody's serious but me,"- Allen Ginsberg, America.

  • Dear Fiona,
    i would have to guess the 'flake' takes one to know one and that the smug air of being himself betrays his own jealousy at the lack of being able to produce an original thought of one's own. it is a good way to look like you are hip, though, from what we see.

    sadly, some people live off reputations of the dear departed and that is their only claim to fame. they are namedroppers, at best.

    again. we invite you to send submissions and people with negative attitudes are generally sore losers with nothing original to share.
    we look forward to more submissions from you, as we are not squares and do have a sense of humor and do not need to prove our intellectual insecurities by trying to discredit others who show originality and have obvious talent. we hope to hear more from you soon, and please take comfort in the fact that crackpot negativity is better than no response at all.

    you have a mind of your own...we hope you consider submitting something for out next issue, which is based on the theme of 'crime'...and it is a crime to be a pseudo-intellectual, which you are not, since they try to live off the reputations of true writers...some true writers are still out there but they seem to be either copied by frustrated hacks with a lack of their own ingenuity or else are simply discontented with themselves and want to take it out on others who show talent.

    you have proven yourself in your writing in other forums but some seem to create their own forums and create fiefdoms of idiocy in the name of crass association with dead people who had REAL talent...

    all the best!

  • pardon any typos, as i am partly inebriated...or else i would have been more blunt...harrr

    i do find it ironic that when you click on his link, you get a failed page and that you click on yours, you get a well contructed blog site. it would appear he is afraid to use his own real name and did you ever hear of a Beat by that name? i sure as hell didn't. smug alert!!!

  • Thanks Michael. The topic is crime? Let me see what I can come up with. The man who introduced me to Kerouac et al was actually an incarcerated pen pal I came in contact with through a personal ad in the back of Relix Magazine, a magazine for Grateful Dead aficionados. I went through a passing phase as a Grateful Dead fan at about fourteen, long enough to pick up a Dead-Head pen pal in jail. He told me about “On The Road,” and The Beats. I remembered he called their stories "our histories" and asked me to send him LSD behind a postage stamp. He sent me a picture once. He had long red hair and was wearing a baja and sitting on a rock.

    • thank you, Fiona.
      like i said...we care and we consider what our real friends have to say. i do not look at one source and close the book. ginsy would not have done that. he would have dug in, like everything else he investigated.
      hey...was that you who was my relix penpal? haha..just kidding...i do not have a criminal record - unless you consider how criminal some of my jokes can be...we would love to see a submission from you. we are still not even fixing a solid deadline but i would reckon it to be in the three-four month range...that is usually how long it takes to sift through the submissions to find enough material we consider worthy of our readers. perhaps a piece on how criminal it is to label oneself a Beat would draw attention. ha...sorry, i love to instigate!

  • oh, cool, Fiona...
    i will check it out tonight. i have a post to do first.

    coincidence, too, as either tomorrow or the the next day i am posting the full interview with Patti that i did on May 15 and excerpted a small section of on this site.

    it sounds very imaginative. i am looking forward to reading it. thanks!

  • Quiff is usually though to be derived from the Middle English queynte. As a noun, it means a curl of hair on a forehead. It's been slang for a woman, a prostitute and/or a vagina since the 18th Century. No telling how Kerouac was using it or why, but given his hairstyle with its often present outlaw curl he could -- properly -- have been described as being with a quiff when in a room by himself.

Recent Posts

Review: The Beats, Black Mountain, and New Modes in American Poetry

The latest in Clemson University’s Beat Studies series is The Beats, Black Mountain, and New…

2 weeks ago

New Release: High White Notes

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Hunter S. Thompson’s landmark “Fear and…

4 weeks ago

Fear and Loathing at 50: A Misunderstood American Classic

Fifty years ago today, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was first published on the…

4 weeks ago

Corso Preferred America

Scholar Glenn Sheldon puts Beat poet Gregory Corso on trial in his book, South of…

1 month ago

Spring and Autumn Annals / Revolutionary Letters (Reviews)

Spring and Autumn Annals: A Celebration of the Seasons for Freddie, by Diane di Prima…

2 months ago

The Birth of a Writer

The following is a short excerpt from David S. Wills' forthcoming High White Notes: The…

2 months ago

This website uses cookies.