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90s Slang You Should Know


[silf] /sɪlf/
a slender, graceful woman or girl.
(in folklore) one of a race of supernatural beings supposed to inhabit the air.
Origin of sylph
1650-60; < New Latin sylphēs (plural), coined by Paracelsus; apparently blend of sylva (variant spelling of Latin silva forest) and Greek nýmphē nymph
Related forms
sylphic, adjective
sylphlike, adjective
2. Sylph, salamander, undine (nymph ), gnome were imaginary beings inhabiting the four elements once believed to make up the physical world. All except the gnomes were female. Sylphs dwelt in the air and were light, dainty, and airy beings. Salamanders dwelt in fire: “a salamander that … lives in the midst of flames” (Addison). Undines were water spirits: By marrying a man, an undine could acquire a mortal soul. (They were also called nymphs, though nymphs were ordinarily minor divinities of nature who dwelt in woods, hills, and meadows as well as in waters.) Gnomes were little old men or dwarfs, dwelling in the earth: ugly enough to be king of the gnomes. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for sylph
Historical Examples
  • Both the port and the starboard lights were now to be seen, and this indicated that the sylph was coming towards him.

    All Adrift Oliver Optic
  • The Zephyr was rapidly approaching the sylph, as the sailboat was called.

    The Boat Club Oliver Optic
  • From the ruse practised by the “sylph,” she was not seen by his lookouts till he was nearly close up to her.

    The Cruise of the Frolic W.H.G. Kingston
  • Meg is always moaning and groaning because she isn't a sylph!

  • On this the sylph opened her fire, and soon sent them to the right about.

    Will Weatherhelm W.H.G. Kingston
  • The sylph was bothered by the last movement of the Goldwing.

    All Adrift Oliver Optic
  • Dont give the sylph much rope; about four feet will do; we dont want to get it wound around the propeller.

    Four Afloat Ralph Henry Barbour
  • He was likely to have a chance yet to use his skill and ingenuity in getting away from the sylph.

    All Adrift Oliver Optic
  • The sylph came about, with sails trembling, and lost headway.

  • It seemed to him not improbable that the sylph had abandoned the pursuit, and gone up the lake.

    All Adrift Oliver Optic
British Dictionary definitions for sylph


a slender graceful girl or young woman
any of a class of imaginary beings assumed to inhabit the air
Derived Forms
sylphlike, (rare) sylphic, sylphish, sylphy, adjective
Word Origin
C17: from New Latin sylphus, probably coined from Latin silva wood + Greek numphēnymph
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for sylph

1650s, from Modern Latin sylphes (plural), coined 16c. by Paracelsus (1493-1541), originally referring to any race of spirits inhabiting the air, described as being mortal but lacking a soul. Paracelsus' word seems to be an arbitrary coinage, but perhaps it holds a suggestion of Latin sylva and Greek nymph. The meaning "slender, graceful girl" first recorded 1838, on the notion of "light, airy movements." Silphid (1670s) are the younger or smaller variety, from French sylphide (1670s).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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