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From Middle English. Cognate to Dutch wisp (bundle of hay or straw). Akin to Middle Dutch/Middle Low German wispel (measure of grain), Norwegian bokmål/Swedish/Bornholm Danish visp (handful or bundle of grass, hay, etc.).



wisp (plural wisps)

  1. A small bundle, as of straw or other like substance; any slender, flexible structure or group.
    A wisp of smoke rose from the candle for a few moments after he blew it out.
    A wisp of hair escaped her barrette and whipped wildly in the wind.
    • Dryden
      in a small basket, on a wisp of hay
  2. A whisk, or small broom.
  3. A will o' the wisp, or ignis fatuus.
    • Tennyson
      the wisp that flickers where no foot can tread


Derived terms[edit]


wisp (third-person singular simple present wisps, present participle wisping, simple past and past participle wisped)

  1. To brush or dress, as with a wisp.
  2. (UK, dialect) To rumple.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Halliwell to this entry?)