The noun is derived from Late Middle English weif (“ownerless property subject to seizure and forfeiture; the right of such seizure and forfeiture; revenues obtained from such seizure and forfeiture”) [and other forms], from Anglo-Norman waif, weif [and other forms] (compare Anglo-Latin waivum [and other forms], Medieval Latin waivium), possibly from Old French waif, a variant of gaif, gayf (“property that is lost and unclaimed; of property: lost and unclaimed”) (Norman) [and other forms], probably from a North Germanic source such as Old Norse veif (“flag; waving thing”), from Proto-Germanic *waif-, from Proto-Indo-European *weyp- (“to oscillate, swing”).
waif (plural waifs)
- (Britain, law, archaic) Often in the form waif and stray, waifs and strays: an article of movable property found of which the owner is not known, such as goods washed up on a beach or thrown away by an absconding thief; such items belong to the Crown, which may grant the right of ownership to them to a lord of a manor.
- Something found, especially if without an owner; something which comes along, as it were, by chance.
- A person (especially a child) who is homeless and without means of support; also, a person excluded from society; an outcast.
- Synonyms: see Thesaurus:vagabond
- 1912 October, Edgar Rice Burroughs, “Tarzan of the Apes”, in The All-Story, New York, N.Y.: Frank A. Munsey Co., OCLC 17392886; republished as “The White Ape”, in Tarzan of the Apes, New York, N.Y.: A. L. Burt Company, 1914, OCLC 1224185, page 55:
- Tenderly Kala nursed her little waif, wondering silently why it did not gain strength and agility as did the little apes of other mothers. It was nearly a year from the time the little fellow came into her possession before he would walk alone, and as for climbing—my, but how stupid he was!
- (by extension) A very thin person.
- (by extension, botany) A plant introduced in a place outside its native range but is not persistently naturalized.
- (transitive) To cast aside or reject, and thus make a waif.
- 1848, [Edward Bulwer-Lytton], chapter I, in Harold, the Last of the Saxon Kings; […], volume II, London: Richard Bentley, […], OCLC 852824569, book IX (The Bones of the Dead), pages 293–294:
- It is true that Guy, Count of Ponthieu, holds fief under me, but I have no control over the laws of his realm. And by those laws, he hath right of life and death over all stranded and waifed on his coast.
waif (plural waifs)
- (nautical, chiefly whaling, historical) A small flag used as a signal.
- 1851 November 14, Herman Melville, “Fast-fish and Loose-fish”, in Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers; London: Richard Bentley, OCLC 57395299, pages 440–441:
- [page 440] The allusion to waifs and waif-poles in the last chapter but one, necessitates some account of the laws and regulations of the whale fishery, of which the waif may be deemed the grand symbol and badge. […] [page 441] [A] fish is technically fast when it bears a waif, or any other recognised symbol of possession; so long as the party waifing it plainly evince their ability at any time to take it alongside, as well as their intention to do so.
Origin unknown; possibly related to the following words:
- waff (“waving movement; gust or puff of air or wind; odour, scent; slight blow; slight attack of illness; glimpse; apparition, wraith; of the wind: to cause (something) to move to and fro; to flutter or wave to and fro in the wind; to produce a current of air by waving, to fan”) (Northern England, Scotland), a variant of waive (etymology 2) or wave (see further at those entries).
- Middle English wef, weffe (“bad odour, stench, stink; exhalation; vapour; tendency of something to go bad (?)”) [and other forms], possibly a variant of either:
- waf, waif, waife (“odour, scent”),, possibly from waven (“to move to and fro, sway, wave; to stray, wander; to move in a weaving manner; (figuratively) to hesitate, vacillate”), from Old English wafian (“to wave”), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *webʰ- (“to braid, weave”); or
- wef (“a blow, stroke”), from weven (“to travel, wander; to move to and fro, flutter, waver; to blow something away, waft; to cause something to move; to fall; to cut deeply; to sever; to give up, yield; to give deference to; to avoid; to afflict, trouble; to beckon, signal”); further etymology uncertain, perhaps from Old English wefan (“to weave”) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *webʰ- (“to braid, weave”)), or from -wǣfan (see bewǣfan, ymbwǣfan).
waif (plural waifs)
- ^ “weif, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “waif, n.1 and adj.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2021; “waif, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
- ^ “waif, v.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2018.
- ^ “waif, n.2”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2020.
- ^ “waif, n.3”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2018.
- ^ “waff, n.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2020; “waff, v.1”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2020.
- ^ “wēf, n.(1)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “wā̆f, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “wāven, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “wēf, n.(2)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “wēven, v.(2)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- Alternative form of