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elf

[elf] /ɛlf/
noun, plural elves
[elvz] /ɛlvz/ (Show IPA)
1.
(in folklore) one of a class of preternatural beings, especially from mountainous regions, with magical powers, given to capricious and often mischievous interference in human affairs, and usually imagined to be a diminutive being in human form; sprite; fairy.
2.
a diminutive person, especially a child.
3.
a mischievous person, especially a child.
Origin
1000
before 1000; Middle English, back formation from elven, Old English elfen nymph (i.e., female elf), variant of ælfen; see elfin
Related forms
elflike, adjective
Synonyms
1. See fairy.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for elflike

elf

/ɛlf/
noun (pl) elves (ɛlvz)
1.
(in folklore) one of a kind of legendary beings, usually characterized as small, manlike, and mischievous
2.
a mischievous or whimsical child
Derived Forms
elflike, adjective
Word Origin
Old English ælf; related to Old Norse elfr elf, Middle Low German alf incubus, Latin albus white

ELF

abbreviation
1.
extremely low frequency
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 elflike

elf

n.

"one of a race of powerful supernatural beings in Germanic folklore," Old English elf (Mercian, Kentish), ælf (Northumbrian), ylfe (plural, West Saxon), from Proto-Germanic *albiz (cf. Old Saxon alf, Old Norse alfr, German alp "evil spirit, goblin, incubus"), origin unknown, possibly from PIE *albho- "white." Used figuratively for "mischievous person" from 1550s.

In addition to elf/ælf (masc.), Old English had parallel form *elfen (fem.), the plural of which was *elfenna, -elfen, from Proto-Germanic *albinjo-. Both words survived into Middle English and were active there, the former as elf (with the vowel of the plural), plural elves, the latter as elven, West Midlands dialect alven (plural elvene).

The Germanic elf originally was dwarfish and malicious (cf. Old English ælfadl "nightmare," ælfsogoða "hiccup," thought to be caused by elves); in the Middle Ages they were confused to some degree with faeries; the more noble version begins with Spenser. Nonetheless a popular component in Anglo-Saxon names, many of which survive as modern given names and surnames, cf. Ælfræd "Elf-counsel" (Alfred), Ælfwine "Elf-friend" (Alvin), Ælfric "Elf-ruler" (Eldridge), also women's names such as Ælfflæd "Elf-beauty." Elf Lock hair tangled, especially by Queen Mab, "which it was not fortunate to disentangle" [according to Robert Nares' glossary of Shakespeare] is from 1592.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Related Abbreviations for elflike

ELF

extremely low frequency
The American Heritage® Abbreviations Dictionary, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Encyclopedia Article for elflike

elf

in Germanic folklore, originally, a spirit of any kind, later specialized into a diminutive creature, usually in tiny human form. In the Prose, or Younger, Edda, elves were classified as light elves (who were fair) and dark elves (who were darker than pitch); these classifications are roughly equivalent to the Scottish seelie court and unseelie court. The notable characteristics of elves were mischief and volatility. They were believed at various times and in various regions to cause diseases in humans and cattle, to sit upon the breast of a sleeper and give him bad dreams (the German word for nightmare is Alpdrucken, or "elf-pressure"), and to steal human children and substitute changelings (deformed or weak elf or fairy children). In the British Isles, flint implements called elf-bolts, elf-arrows, or elf-shot (which are now known to be prehistoric tools used by the aboriginal Irish and the early Scots) were believed to be the weapons with which elves injured cattle. Elves occasionally also were benevolent and helpful. The second edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, which was published in 1777-84, calls the word elf obsolete but reports that belief in such creatures "still subsists in many parts of our own country. . . In the Highlands of Scotland, new-born children are watched till the christening is over, lest they should be stolen or changed by some of these phantastical existences." In time, elves came to be indistinct from fairies, though both older classics-such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poem "Der Erlkonig" ("The Elf King")-and such modern classics as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (1954-55) still treat elves as a distinct type.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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