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[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. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for waif
Historical Examples
  • I am such a waif and stray everywhere, that I am liable to be drifted where any current may set.'

    Little Dorrit Charles Dickens
  • Sitting in the sheets, I turned over in my mind all that this waif had said.

    Micah Clarke Arthur Conan Doyle
  • When he took refuge in the Vatican he must have been clinging to some waif and stray of hope.

    The Eternal City Hall Caine
  • Edwin said she should be called waif, and waif she was ever after called in that house.

  • Mrs. Barry bit her lip and did not love the waif the more that she had been able to defend her.

    In Apple-Blossom Time

    Clara Louise Burnham
  • My waif was curled up in my kimono, feeding my fan-tailed goldfish.

    Jane Journeys On Ruth Comfort Mitchell
  • I have become a rover and a waif, and I feel as lighthearted as a boy.

    No Surrender! G. A. Henty
  • My husband told me all about your help and your kindness to our waif.

    We Two Edna Lyall
  • waif, who was slowly recovering, grew pathetically fond of his rescuer.

    We Two Edna Lyall
  • Meanwhile we has a good chance to inspect this waif that's been sort of wished on us.

    Torchy, Private Sec. Sewell Ford
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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