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sylph

[silf] /sɪlf/
noun
1.
a slender, graceful woman or girl.
2.
(in folklore) one of a race of supernatural beings supposed to inhabit the air.
Origin
1650-1660
1650-60; < Neo-Latin sylphēs (plural), coined by Paracelsus; apparently blend of sylva (variant spelling of Latin silva forest) and Greek nýmphē nymph
Related forms
sylphic, adjective
sylphlike, adjective
Synonyms
2. Sylph, salamander, undine (nymph ), gnome were imaginary beings inhabiting the four elements once believed to make up the physical world. All except the gnomes were female. Sylphs dwelt in the air and were light, dainty, and airy beings. Salamanders dwelt in fire: “a salamander that … lives in the midst of flames” (Addison). Undines were water spirits: By marrying a man, an undine could acquire a mortal soul. (They were also called nymphs, though nymphs were ordinarily minor divinities of nature who dwelt in woods, hills, and meadows as well as in waters.) Gnomes were little old men or dwarfs, dwelling in the earth: ugly enough to be king of the gnomes.
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for sylphlike

sylph

/sɪlf/
noun
1.
a slender graceful girl or young woman
2.
any of a class of imaginary beings assumed to inhabit the air
Derived Forms
sylphlike, (rare) sylphic, sylphish, sylphy, adjective
Word Origin
C17: from New Latin sylphus, probably coined from Latin silva wood + Greek numphēnymph
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for sylphlike

sylph

n.

1650s, from Modern Latin sylphes (plural), coined 16c. by Paracelsus (1493-1541), originally referring to any race of spirits inhabiting the air, described as being mortal but lacking a soul. Paracelsus' word seems to be an arbitrary coinage, but perhaps it holds a suggestion of Latin sylva and Greek nymph. The meaning "slender, graceful girl" first recorded 1838, on the notion of "light, airy movements." Silphid (1670s) are the younger or smaller variety, from French sylphide (1670s).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for sylphlike

sylph

an imaginary or elemental being that inhabits the air and is mortal but soulless. The existence of such beings was first postulated by the medieval physician Paracelsus, who associated a different being with each of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water). Compare gnome; undine.

Learn more about sylph with a free trial on Britannica.com
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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