c.1300, "handful or bundle of hay, grass, etc.," used for burning or cleaning or as a cushion; perhaps from an unrecorded O.E. word, cognate with Norw. and Swed. visp "wisp," of unknown origin; sometimes said to be connected with whisk or with M.L.G. and M.Du. wispel "a measure of grain." Meaning "thin, filmy portion" first attested 1836.