Cadet Blanchet almost forgot his rancour and no one at the mill knew of Mother Zabelle's project to send the waif back to the foundling hospital.
-- George Sand, The Country Waif, 1930
It wasn't any one thing that made a waif. Isobel was sure of that. It wasn't being crippled, or being in disgrace, or even not being married. It was a shameful thing to be a waif, but it was also mysterious.
-- Maeve Brennan, The Rose Garden: Short Stories, 2000
Waif likely finds its roots in the Old Norse veif meaning "waving thing" or "flag."