A superlative common in the American urban dialect used by those of African heritage and known to the politically correct as ebonics, "def" means roughly "excellent," "of extremely high quality/skill/etc."

Pronounced identically to "deaf," the etymology of this term is very uncertain. I had always assumed it to be a mispronunciation of deft. Professional linguists*, however, disagree. The following possibilities arise for its origin:

  • The Afrikaans word "deftig," meaning "smart" or "chic."
  • "Death," from the common usage of doing something "to death," or to an extreme degree. This may have come from Jamaica.
  • A shortened form of "definitely," "definitive," etc.

Members of the British band Def Leppard were probably unaware of this word at the time they named themselves. It's simply a misspelling of "deaf leopard."

* http://www.geocities.com/etymonline/d1etym.htm ; http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/3/3-140.html#3

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