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[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 sylphlike
Historical Examples
  • The young women have none of the sylphlike appearance of the Mandingoes or Soosoos.

    Captain Canot Brantz Mayer
  • Her vest and train of white satin did not conceal her sylphlike form and delicate feet.

    Sketches Benjamin Disraeli
  • For at this writing in those parts the slender, sylphlike string-bean is not playing a minor part, as with us.

    Europe Revised Irvin S. Cobb
  • I had red cheeks and was ashamed of them, and my stocky, square-shouldered figure was anything but sylphlike.

  • It is one of the commonest delusions among fat men that horseback riding will bring them down and make them sylphlike and willowy.

    Cobb's Anatomy Irvin S. Cobb
British Dictionary definitions for sylphlike


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 sylphlike



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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