Fisticuffs – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Parents raising five sons might rightfully say that fisticuffs are inevitable in their home because brothers usually get into fights. Keeping reading to discover where this fascinating term came from and what it means. We’ll also show you how to use this exciting word.


The English noun “fisticuffs” simply means a fist fight.

Fisticuffs may involve two or more people and can be friendly or serious.

The word fisticuffs has come to have a funny ring to it in modern times, but it has a long history. Describing a fight as “fisticuffs” does not mean nobody was seriously injured, merely that the participants used their fists to fight.

Example Usage

Would you like to use the word “fisticuffs” to describe a fist fight? You can use these example sentences to improve your understanding of the correct usage and context:

  • “Uncle Roger takes pride in sharing tales of his youthful drunkenness and fisticuffs. It is hard to imagine him fighting anyone, but he used to be a really tough guy.”
  • “I worked in a bar for two years. The job was a lot of fun when I wasn’t trying to stop fisticuffs or sending guests who had too many drinks home.”
  • “There were plenty of fisticuffs between Jim and Robert, but those two always had each other’s backs even when they were teenagers.”


The word fisticuffs has a much longer history than you might think — the first known reference to fisticuffs meaning a fist fight dates back to 1605. Fisticuffs combines two even older words, “fist” and “cuff.”

A fist is a tightly closed hand. This formation protects the fingers, which are weaker and more vulnerable while creating a hard and concentrated mass the user can direct in anger. Besides intending to fight, people also use fists to show their anger or to protest.

The word first originated with Proto-Germanic and has been used for centuries.

The verb “to cuff,” which can be traced to the 1500s, has largely fallen out of use. Not many people know what it means now, but cuffing originally referred to slapping or punching someone with an open hand.

“Cuffing” likely came from the Swedish “kuffa,” meaning “thrusting.”

Fisticuffs combines these two concepts to mean a fight in which participants use their fists to deliver blows. It now has an archaic tone that some people may find amusing.

Phrases Similar to Fisticuffs

Are you looking for other ways to describe fisticuffs? You have plenty of choices:

  • A fist fight.
  • A brawl — meaning an unarmed fight, and typically one that involves a group of people.
  • A punch-up — a fight in which people punch each other.
  • A scrap — meaning an unarmed fight.
  • A tussle — a conflict that may lead to fisticuffs or can stay confined to people yelling at each other.

Phrases Opposite to Fisticuffs

The opposite of fisticuffs is a lack of fisticuffs — people who don’t get into physical fights and manage to work their disagreements out verbally.

This may involve:

  • Strong debate.
  • A heated argument.

What Is the Correct Word?

The correct word is “fisticuffs.” This noun describes a physical fight during which participants use their fists to deliver blows to any part of their opponents’ bodies.

Ways People May Say Fisticuffs Incorrectly

English learners and others who have recently learned what “fisticuffs” are should keep in mind that fisticuffs is a noun.

It would be incorrect to say that you “want to fisticuff someone” or that you have “fisticuffed with someone.”

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Fisticuffs

You can use the word “fisticuffs” to describe any fist fight, but fisticuffs usually refers to a fist fight between two people — also known as a fist-fighting duel.

Telling young children to avoid fisticuffs will make them laugh because the word sounds funny, but  adults may experience the term as slightly outdated. The term “punch-up” is used more often now.

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