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90s Slang You Should Know


[weyf] /weɪf/
a person, especially a child, who has no home or friends.
something found, especially a stray animal, whose owner is not known.
a very thin, often small person, usually a young woman.
a stray item or article:
to gather waifs of gossip.
Nautical. waft (def 8).
Origin of waif
1350-1400; Middle English < Anglo-French, orig. lost, stray, unclaimed (compare Old French guaif stray beast) < Scandinavian; compare Old Norse veif movement to and fro; see waive Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for waif
Historical Examples
  • The first lawyer, you know, was a waif that was adopted by a tortoise and a fox.

    Memoirs of a Midget Walter de la Mare
  • One employed on the sea-coast to look to the rights of salvage, wreck, or waif.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • I am a stranger, a waif, a man with neither name nor fortune!

    Marietta F. Marion Crawford
  • “On board the ship,” replied the waif, in tones not at all sepulchral.

    Up The Baltic Oliver Optic
  • I am cast on the globe like a waif, like a grain of dust tossed by the winds, and nobody knows where I came from.

    The Waif of the "Cynthia" Andr Laurie and Jules Verne
  • “I will wash all the time if they will only let me stay in the ship,” pleaded the waif.

    Up The Baltic Oliver Optic
  • I am such a waif and stray everywhere, that I am liable to be drifted where any current may set.'

    Little Dorrit Charles Dickens
  • The cashier led the way, and the waif reluctantly followed him.

    Up The Baltic Oliver Optic
  • Fusie, the little, harum-scarum French waif was ready for anything in the way of adventure.

    Glengarry Schooldays Ralph Connor
  • Sanford had made peace with the waif, who was now as popular as ever with all the party.

    Up The Baltic Oliver Optic
British Dictionary definitions for waif


a person, esp a child, who is homeless, friendless, or neglected
anything found and not claimed, the owner being unknown
(nautical) another name for waft (sense 5)
(law, obsolete) a stolen article thrown away by a thief in his flight and forfeited to the Crown or to the lord of the manor
Derived Forms
waiflike, adjective
Word Origin
C14: from Anglo-Norman, variant of Old Northern French gaif, of Scandinavian origin; related to Old Norse veif a flapping thing
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 waif

late 14c., "unclaimed property, flotsam, stray animal," from Anglo-Norm. waif, gwaif (early 13c.) "ownerless property," probably from a Scandinavian source akin to Old Norse veif "waving thing, flag," from Proto-Germanic *waif-, from PIE *weip- "to turn, vacillate, tremble ecstatically" (see vibrate). Cf. Medieval Latin waivium "thing thrown away by a thief in flight." A Scottish/northern English parallel form was wavenger (late 15c.).

Meaning "person (especially a child) without home or friends" first attested 1784, from legal phrase waif and stray (1620s). Neglected children being uncommonly thin, the word tended toward this sense. Connotations of "fashionable, small, slender woman" began 1991 with application to childishly slim supermodels, e.g. Kate Moss.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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