will o' the wisp

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Alternative forms[edit]


Will (male given name) + of + the + wisp (bundle of straw or hay used as a torch)[1]


  • (US) IPA(key): /ˌwɪləðəˈwɪsp/
  • (file)


will o' the wisp (plural will o' the wisps)

  1. (British folklore) A flickering light or lantern, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes, held by a supernatural creature who uses it to lure travelers at night to their demise.
    • 1988, Michael Weikath, "Keeper of the Seven Keys", Helloween, Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II.
      Will o' the wisps / Misguiding your path / You can't throw a curse / Without takin' their wrath
  2. (idiomatic) A delusionary or otherwise unachievable goal that one feels compelled to pursue.
    • 1951 May, R. K. Kirkland, “The Cavan & Leitrim Railway”, in Railway Magazine, page 345:
      Some preliminary legal arrangements were made, but the scheme proceeded no further, as the various local authorities concerned were unwilling to speculate public funds on what was, even at that date, a will o' the wisp.
    • 1992 March 2, Richard Preston, “The Mountains of Pi”, in The New Yorker:
      I happen to think the brothers’ pi project is a will-o’-the-wisp, and is one of the least interesting things they’ve ever done. But what do I know?



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2024) “will-o'-the-wisp”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.

Further reading[edit]