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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. 2015.
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Examples from the web for waif
  • It was a few years before she got another part as good as that of the waif.
  • He steals away, returning three years later transformed from waif to gentleman.
  • When it comes to laptops, the waif look never goes out of style.
  • Janie has the heart of a waif and sometimes the demeanor of a clown.
  • And sure enough, there were a few urban lumberjack types and one unapproachably pretty waif.
  • Throughout the sites, visitors are bombarded by images of waif-thin models and movie stars.
  • She's a cast-iron waif, and her detachment lends itself to her seemingly blithe efficiency.
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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