From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search



From Middle English wispe, wyspe, wips, wipse, perhaps from an unrecorded Old English *wisp, *wips. Cognate with West Frisian wisp, Dutch wisp (bundle of hay or straw), Norwegian bokmål/Swedish/Bornholm Danish visp (handful or bundle of grass, hay, etc.). Akin also to Middle Dutch/Middle Low German wispel (measure of grain).


  • IPA(key): /wɪsp/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɪsp


wisp (countable and uncountable, 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.
  2. A whisk, or small broom.
  3. A will o' the wisp, or ignis fatuus.
  4. An immeasurable, indefinable essence of life; soul.
    • 2017 September 10, Nigel Warburton, “What does a portrait of Erica the android tell us about being human?”, in The Observer[1]:
      Another traditional answer to the question of what makes us so different, popular for millennia, has been that humans have a non-physical soul, one that inhabits the body but is distinct from it, an ethereal ghostly wisp that floats free at death to enjoy an after-life which may include reunion with other souls, or perhaps a new body to inhabit.
  5. (archaic) A flock of snipe.
    • 1861, Horace William Wheelwright, Bush Wanderings of a Naturalist, page 99:
      They shift their quarters in the early part of the season very suddenly, and if a man hears of a wisp of snipe in any particular place, he must be off at once.
    • 1988, Michael Cady, Rob Hume, editors, The Complete Book of British Birds, page 158:
      A flock of snipe is given the collective name of a "wisp", perhaps due to its rapid twisting and turning before the birds drop down again.
  6. (uncountable) A disease affecting the feet of cattle.

Derived terms[edit]



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

  1. (transitive) To brush or dress, as with a wisp.
    • 1753, William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty:
      The very same head of hair, wisp'd, and matted together, would make the most disagreeable figure.
  2. (UK, dialect, obsolete) To rumple.
  3. (intransitive) To produce a wisp, as of smoke.
    • 1931, William Faulkner, Sanctuary, Library of America, published 1985, page 70:
      To Temple, sitting in the cottonseed-hulls and the corn-cobs, the sound was no louder than the striking of a match: a short, minor sound shutting down the scene, the instant, with a profound finality, completely isolating it, and she sat there, her legs straight before her, her hands limp and palm-up on her lap, looking at Popeye's tight back and the ridges of his coat across his shoulders as he leaned out the door, the pistol behind him, against his flank, wisping thinly along his leg.
  4. (transitive) To emit in wisps.
    • 2011, Iain Lawrence, The Winter Pony, page 219:
      It looked warm and rosy-bright inside, with a little chimney wisping smoke, little windows glowing.


Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of wyspe