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From Middle English wyspe. Cognate to Dutch wisp (bundle of hay or straw). Akin to Middle Dutch/Middle Low German wispel (measure of grain), Norwegian bokmål/Swedish/Bornholm Danish visp (handful or bundle of grass, hay, etc.).


  • 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.
    • Dryden
      in a small basket, on a wisp of hay
  2. A whisk, or small broom.
  3. A will o' the wisp, or ignis fatuus.
    • Tennyson
      the wisp that flickers where no foot can tread
  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. (uncountable) A disease affecting the feet of cattle.

Derived termsEdit



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

  1. To brush or dress, as with a wisp.
  2. (Britain, dialectal) To rumple.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Halliwell to this entry?)
  3. (intransitive) To produce a wisp, as of smoke.
    • 1931, William Faulkner, Sanctuary, Library of America, 1985, p.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.


Middle EnglishEdit



  1. Alternative form of wyspe



wîsp (preterite wispę, middle wispęs, passive val wispę)

  1. (transitive) to wag, wave
    wîsp bårt knortn
    wave away mosquitoes
    marra wîsp rompęn
    the mare swishes its tail

Derived termsEdit