- 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
Related Wordscastaway, stray, ragamuffin, urchin, foundling, drop, orphan, flotsam, fetch, jetsam, dogie
Examples from the Web for waif
I am such a waif and stray everywhere, that I am liable to be drifted where any current may set.'Little Dorrit
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
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
- 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 (def. 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
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.