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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English elven, from Old English elfen, ælfen (nymph, spirit, fairy), feminine of elf, ælf (elf), equivalent to elf +‎ -en. Cognate with Middle High German elbinne (a fairy, nymph).


elfin (plural elfins)

  1. An elf; an inhabitant of fairy-land.
  2. A little urchin or child.
  3. Any of the butterflies in the subgenus Incisalia of the North American lycaenid genus Callophrys

Etymology 2[edit]

Partly from attributive use of Etymology 1, but reanalysed by Spenser as if equivalent to elf +‎ -en.


elfin (comparative more elfin, superlative most elfin)

  1. Relating to or resembling an elf, especially in its tiny size or features.
    • 1914, Louis Joseph Vance, Nobody, chapter I:
      Three chairs of the steamer type, all maimed, comprised the furniture of this roof-garden, with [] on one of the copings a row of four red clay flower-pots filled with sun-baked dust from which gnarled and rusty stalks thrust themselves up like withered elfin limbs.
    • 2012 May 24, Nathan Rabin, “Film: Reviews: Men In Black 3”, in The Onion AV Club:
      He’s forced to travel back to 1969 to prevent an evil alien (a shockingly effective, nearly unrecognizable Jemaine Clement of Flight Of The Conchords, playing sort of a psychotic extraterrestrial-biker serial killer) from destroying the world by killing Brolin. Smith is aided in his quest by an elfin, time-jumping alien with psychic powers played by another Coen brothers veteran, A Serious Man star Michael Stuhlbarg.
    Synonyms: elven, elvish