Presumably from *whistful, from whist (“silent”) + -ful, based on older wistly. It is implausible that it derives from wishful, the required sound change being wishful → *wisful → wistful, which could not occur in Modern English, particularly not with wishful continuing in use. However, the sense of “longing” appears to be influenced by wishful, with wistful being an ambiguous poetic word.
- Full of longing or yearning.
His eyes grew wistful as he recalled his university days.
1909, Archibald Marshall [pseudonym; Arthur Hammond Marshall], “A Court Ball”, in The Squire’s Daughter, London: Methuen, OCLC 12026604; republished New York, N.Y.: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1919, OCLC 491297620, page 1:
- Her grey eyes, looking out on the violet of the night sky, the trees, and the crowd of hilarious onlookers who had not been invited to Buckingham Palace, had a patient and wistful expression.
- Sad and thoughtful.
- “wistful” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2018.