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waif Syllabification: waif

Definition of waif in English:


1A homeless and helpless person, especially a neglected or abandoned child: she is foster-mother to various waifs and strays
More example sentences
  • I used to pick up all sorts of collarless waifs and strays from our housing estate in Ireland.
  • Winter for Kiev's waifs and strays is a cold, bleak daily battle for survival.
  • Mrs Tarpen had no problem with that idea, and she rather liked the idea of helping a homeless waif off the streets.
foundling, orphan, stray
derogatory guttersnipe
dated gamin
1.1An abandoned pet animal.
Example sentences
  • A lost waif and stray of extraordinary beauty turned up in Aberdeen and made the front page of two national newspapers: a bluethroat looking enchantingly like a robin that had been coloured in wrong.
  • Lorraine Spencer, the founder of cat refuge Devizes Kats and Kits in Care, says she will not be taking in any more waifs and strays.
  • For the last thirty years she has been taking in waifs and strays who would otherwise have been left in kennels, or possibly even destroyed.
2 Law A piece of property thrown away by a fleeing thief and held by the state in trust for the owner to claim.



Example sentences
  • Curvaceous, decidedly feminine and womanly I would say, rather than waifish and childlike.
  • Ben Drawing shows a waifish, pale boy with scruffy black hair and tattoos lounging in black bathing briefs on a brightly colored beach towel.
  • Audrey Hepburn may look very good in those stylish designer clothes, if you're into her starving waifish look, but she isn't a very good actress.


Late Middle English: from an Anglo-Norman French variant of Old Northern French gaif, probably of Scandinavian origin. Early use was often in waif and stray, as a legal term denoting a piece of property found and, if unclaimed, falling to the lord of the manor.

  • In the 1990s a new look became popular for fashion models—the very thin, childlike girls were called waifs or superwaifs. The word waif can be traced back to medieval law, where it was a term for a piece of property found without an owner, which belonged to the lord of the manor if it was not claimed— waifs and strays was an overall term for lost property and stray animals. It was not until the 1600s that waif first referred to a homeless or neglected person. The word is from Old French gaif, and before that was probably Scandinavian.

Words that rhyme with waif

chafe, Rafe, safe, vouchsafe

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