"rock ridge underwater," 1580s, riffe, probably via Dutch riffe, from a Scandinavian source such as Old Norse rif "ridge in the sea; reef in a sail," literally "rib" (see rib (n.)).
"horizontal section of sail," late 14c. (mid-14c. in rif-rope), from a Scandinavian source such as Old Norse rif "reef of a sail," probably a transferred use of rif "ridge under the sea; rib" (see rib (n.) and compare reef (n.1)). German reff, Swedish ref, Norwegian riv, Danish reb likely all are from the Old Norse word.
1660s, "take in, roll up" (as one would a section of a sail on a ship), from reef (n.2). Related: Reefed; reefing.
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