In Star Wars we have Moffs and Grand Moffs. They don't seem to fit with the nomenclature of the Imperial Navy (captain, general, admiral etc).

Is the title Moff based on any real life rank or is it purely made up for Star Wars?1

1. Rejected title for this question was "what the hell is a Moff?"

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    "I've often wondered what a 'Grand Moff' was. It sounds like something that flew out of a cupboard." ― Peter Cushing – Valorum Sep 28 '15 at 18:27
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    @Richard for some reason it reminds me of a merkin. – user46509 Sep 28 '15 at 18:28
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    @Richard - ... cupboard under the stairs. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 28 '15 at 18:42
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    I was just looking at our systems and we have a Main Officer Manager, which is abbreviated as MoffMgr. Maybe it's something like that? Maybe something other than main (Major, Master, ...) – Ghostship Sep 28 '15 at 21:45
  • It probably has nothing to do with it AT ALL, but you know how some people call Germans "krauts" in English countries? In Dutch speaking countries, some people call Germans "Moffen". The etymology depends on who you ask: some linguistics say it's because of the muffs Germans wore in the 17th century, others say it stems from the German word Muff, which means horrible person. – Nzall Sep 28 '15 at 21:47

A Moff is a regional governor rather than a Military rank. When Tarkin said in A New Hope that "The Regional Governors now have direct control over their territories." These were the Moffs.

A Grand Moff held control over Priority Sectors, those that the Emperor had a special interest in.

A real world comparison may be closer to the relationship of a country leader and their army.

Sources: Moff, Grand Moff.

In the first drafts of Star Wars, the term was "Mouff", but neither that word or Moff appears to have any real world meaning.

There are a couple of references to "Moff" on Fine Dictionary, (but none for Mouff) where it appears to be a fine silk fabric. Or a scientific term I don't understand:

Further, for the given oracle O , the O-offline oracle complexity of the given offline optimization problem is defined as moff (, Z , O) = inf AO moff (, AO , Z ).

(I think there is another character in those brackets my browser won't render)

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    I know what a moff is in context, I'm interested in the source of the word as it doesn't fit with the rest of the ranks that are based on the navy/army – user46509 Sep 28 '15 at 18:35
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    @CarlSixsmith - fixed the tags for you to make this more obvious – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 28 '15 at 18:43
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    I'd guess that it's $m_{off}$ in the original. – CodesInChaos Sep 29 '15 at 10:21
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    Confirmed that it was $m_{off}$. Screenshot of the paper – CodesInChaos Sep 29 '15 at 10:30
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    In fact, I don't think they ever actually said "Grand Moff" or even "Moff" onscreen in "Star Wars". The title appears only in the screenplay's directions. – Mark Reed Dec 20 '16 at 13:43

If memory serves, I saw on the BBC TV show QI (Quite Interesting) that there is, in fact, a military rank that was the basis for 'Moff'.

I'm doing further research now to confirm this but I think that it was a Middle Eastern or Arabic word.

Will report back with more details when (if!) I find them.

Ok, I've not been able to find the episode but, as we have(for example) the Grand Vizier in Star Wars and Vizier is a high-ranking political advisor or minister in the Arab World.

I think it was suggested that Moff, and Grand Moff, was taken from Grand Mufti - which according to Wikipedia:

is the highest official of religious law in a Sunni or Ibadi Muslim country. The Grand Mufti issues legal opinions and edicts, fatāwā, on interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence for private clients or to assist judges in deciding cases.

I'm now looking for further evidence to back this up...

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  • One bit of further evidence could be the fact the German translation actually uses the term (Groß-)Mufti. – BMWurm Sep 29 '15 at 7:37
  • Jafar in Aladdin was the Grand Vizier by the way ;-) – ThruGog Sep 29 '15 at 20:58
  • Everything on QI is made up, you do know that right? – Gaius Sep 30 '15 at 13:12
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    I'm not sure if that's a joke or not, but QI is not 'made-up'. Wrong sometimes, no doubt, or selective with it's evidence but not fictitious. Of course, the suggestion still stands regardless of the authority of said TV show... – Jimbo Vader Sep 30 '15 at 21:46

There's no known canon explanation for the etymology.

However, there are some possibilities:

It's well known that Vader likely comes from Dutch word.

As such, it's interesting to note that Dutch have two words similar to Moff, used as perjorative for Germans:

  1. It may also be related to the Middle Dutch word "moffelen", "be loud-mouthed", probably a literal translation of the word "German". The origin of it is probably in Old Irish "gairm" or the Welsh "garm", meaning to scream or cry. So "German" means "screamer."
  2. It is often thought that this kind of terminology can be traced back to World War II. But many nicknames are older. For the nickname "Mof" was already used in the sixteenth century, from "Muff", still a German word for a grumpy person.

Source: http://www.engelfriet.net/Alie/Marieke/mof.htm

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The problem using real world military or civilian ranks in a science fiction story about a galactic government is that a galaxy is vast, and thus a galactic government must be vast and complicated. A vast and complicated galactic government would have vast and complicated government hierarchies with many more levels and ranks than in any government hierarchy on puny little Earth.

Thus adding a new term and a grand version of that new term to the top of the galactic hierarchies is a small step toward creating sufficient ranks for a galactic government.

Creating moffs and grand moffs was a small step toward acknowledging the vast scale of a galactic government, and using the alien sounding term "moff" instead of translating it into some familiar or exotic Earth term helps give the impression that the events are happening "long, long ago in a galaxy far away" instead of here on Earth.

And I don't know if there is any source which gives any reason for the choice of the term "moff" or says what "moff" means in the Galactic Empire.

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Peter cushing was in a film in the seventies ' The Blood Beast Terror ' in which a beautiful woman can change into a huge death heads moth at will. Lucas and Spielberg were in London quite a bit before the films release. How does a londoner say ' moth ' ?

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    Although this is an answer, It seems very unlikely to be true. Can you provide any evidence for this "fact"? – Edlothiad Aug 14 '17 at 17:01

It could be an homage to Peter Seller's character as the president in Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove.

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    As someone who's not seen the film, I can't see the reference. Could you explain it here? – Gallifreyan Jul 1 '17 at 14:41

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