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See also: WAIF


Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for waif in
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)


From Middle English weif, from Anglo-Norman waif, possibly from Old French waif, variant of gayf (stray; wandering; vagabond), probably from a North Germanic source such as Old Norse veif (flag, waving thing), from Proto-Germanic *waif-, from Proto-Indo-European *weib-, *weip- (to oscillate, swing).


  • IPA(key): /weɪf/
  • Rhymes: -eɪf
  • (file)


waif (plural waifs)

  1. A castaway; a homeless child.
    Synonyms: wanderer, stray
    • 1912: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes, Chapter 5
      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!
  2. (botany, of a plant outside its native range) A plant that has been introduced but is not persistently naturalized.
  3. (obsolete) Goods found of which the owner is not known; originally, such goods as a pursued thief threw away to prevent being apprehended, which belonged to the king unless the owner made pursuit of the felon, took him, and brought him to justice.
  4. (obsolete) Hence, anything found, or without an owner; that which comes along, as it were, by chance.

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Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of weif