Etymology
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staff (n.)

Old English stæf (plural stafas), "walking stick, strong pole used for carrying, rod used as a weapon, pastoral staff," probably originally *stæb, from Proto-Germanic *stab- (source also of Old Saxon staf, Old Norse stafr, Danish stav, Old Frisian stef, Middle Low German and Middle Dutch staf, Old High German stab, German Stab, Gothic *stafs "element;" Middle Dutch stapel "pillar, foundation").

This is reconstructed to be from PIE root *stebh- "post, stem, to support, place firmly on, fasten" (source also of Old Lithuanian stabas "idol," Lithuanian stiebas "staff, pillar;" Old Church Slavonic stoboru "pillar;" Sanskrit stabhnati "supports;" Greek stephein "to tie around, encircle, wreathe," staphyle "grapevine, bunch of grapes;" Old English stapol "post, pillar").

As "pole from which a flag is flown," 1610s. In musical notation from 1660s. Sense of "group of military officers that assists a commander" is attested from 1702, apparently from German, from the notion of the baton that is a badge of office or authority (a sense attested in English from 1530s); hence staff officer (1702), staff-sergeant (1811). The meaning "group of employees (as at an office or hospital)" is attested by 1837.

Staff of life "bread" is from the Biblical phrase break the staff of bread meaning "cut off the supply of food" (Leviticus xxvi.26), translating Hebrew matteh lekhem.

The Old English word, in plural, was the common one used for "letter of the alphabet, character," hence "writing, literature," and many compounds having to do with writing, such as stæfcræft "grammar," stæfcræftig "lettered," stæflic "literary," stæfleahtor "grammatical error," with leahtor "vice, sin, offense."

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staff (v.)
"to provide with a staff of assistants," 1859, from staff (n.). Related: Staffed; staffing.
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short-staff (n.)

1775, "a short cudgel used in a two-person fight," from short (adj.) + staff (n.). To be short-staffed "not adequately provided with personnel," is by 1953, from staff in the "group of employees" sense.

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waitstaff (n.)
1981, American English; see waiter + staff (n.).
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staffer (n.)
"staff-writer," 1949, in journalism, from staff-writer (1878); from staff (n.) in the "group of employees" sense.
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pikestaff (n.)

"staff with an iron head more or less pointed," mid-14c., from pike (n.2) + staff (n.).

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packstaff (n.)

"a staff on which a peddler rests the weight of his pack when he stops," 1540s, from pack (n.) + staff (n.).

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flagstaff (n.)
1610s, from flag (n.) + staff (n.). The settlement in Arizona, U.S., said to have been so called for a July 4, 1876, celebration in which a large flag was flown from a tall tree.
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tipstaff (n.)
1540s, "tipped staff" (truncheon with a tip or cap of metal) carried as an emblem of office, from tip (n.) + staff (n.). As the name of an official who carries one (especially a sheriff's officer, bailiff, constable, court crier, etc.) it is recorded from 1560s.
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stave (n.)
"piece of a barrel," 1750, back-formation from staves (late 14c.), plural of staff, with the usual change of medial -f- to -v- (compare leaves/leaf). The plural form possibly was in Old English but not recorded there.
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