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will-o'-the-wisp

[wil-uh-th uh-wisp] /ˈwɪl ə ðəˈwɪsp/
noun
1.
ignis fatuus (def 1).
2.
anything that deludes or misleads by luring on.
Origin
1600-1610
1600-10; orig. Will (i.e., William) with the wisp; see wisp
Related forms
willo'-the-wispish; especially British, willo'-the-wispy, adjective
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for will-o'-the-wisp

will-o'-the-wisp

/ˌwɪləðəˈwɪsp/
noun
1.
Also called friar's lantern, ignis fatuus, jack-o'-lantern. a pale flame or phosphorescence sometimes seen over marshy ground at night. It is believed to be due to the spontaneous combustion of methane or other hydrocarbons originating from decomposing organic matter
2.
a person or thing that is elusive or allures and misleads
Derived Forms
will-o'-the-wispish, will-o'-the-wispy, adjective
Word Origin
C17: originally Will with the wisp, from Will short for William and wisp in former sense of a twist of hay or straw burning as a torch
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 will-o'-the-wisp
n.

1660s, earlier Will with the wisp (c.1600), from the masc. proper name Will + wisp "bundle of hay or straw used as a torch."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for will-o'-the-wisp

ignis fatuus

in meteorology, a mysterious light seen at night flickering over marshes; when approached, it advances, always out of reach. The phenomenon is also known as will-o'-the-wisp and ignis fatuus (Latin: "foolish fire"). In popular legend it is considered ominous and is often purported to be the soul of one who has been rejected by hell carrying its own hell coal on its wanderings. The phenomenon is generally believed to be due to the spontaneous ignition of marsh gas, which consists mostly of methane and which is produced by the decomposition of dead plant matter

Learn more about ignis fatuus with a free trial on Britannica.com
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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7
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