There are 2 main definitions of wan in English:

Share this entry

Share this page

wan1

Syllabification: wan
Pronunciation: /wän
 
/

adjective

1(Of a person’s complexion or appearance) pale and giving the impression of illness or exhaustion: she was looking wan and bleary-eyed
More example sentences
  • Eli reminded me of an older Bob Dylan, his size and wan complexion and his face.
  • Judging from his wan appearance, however, it was clear that the show had taken its toll.
  • Outside, the once splendid Nevski Prospekt (St. Petersburg's O'Connell Street) is in need of a lick of paint and seems to be trying desperately to become European, but its people are grey and wan.
Synonyms
anemic, colorless, bloodless, waxen, chalky, pasty, peaked, sickly, washed out, drained, drawn, ghostly
1.1(Of light) pale; weak: the wan dawn light
More example sentences
  • Eric Gautier photographed it, with frequent and unnecessary use of the wan light and monochromatic effects that are now high-fashion clichés of their own.
  • Instead, our wars exposed the limits of our capability and cast a wan light on many of our cherished illusions.
  • One need only stand in the aisle marked Produce to understand how the wan light obscuring the bruised fruit makes all of our decisions more difficult.
Synonyms
1.2(Of a smile) weak; strained.
Example sentences
  • ‘No, I didn't know that,’ he says quietly, offering a wan smile.
  • My light-hearted offer to provide a dumpster was usually met with a wan smile.
  • In another image, two bored children gaze at the camera, the older one giving the camera a wan smile.
1.3 literary (Of the sea) without luster; dark and gloomy.

Origin

Old English wann 'dark, black', of unknown origin.

More
  • This is an example of a colour word that has reversed in meaning, like auburn. Until ad 700 wan meant ‘dark, black’, and it did not start to mean ‘pale’ until around 1300. As well as ‘dark’ it originally meant ‘of an unhealthy greyish colour’, particularly of the face of a person who was dead or affected by disease, and this notion of unhealthiness could have provided the connection with ‘pale’.

Derivatives

wanly

1
adverb
Example sentences
  • And although the resolution wanly concedes Senate complicity in mob murders, it does little to compensate victims of a racist terrorism that was culture-deep.
  • Una Vita was published in 1892, and wanly noticed; Senilità, published in 1898, sank into oblivion.
  • The mystic overtones of a suffering, bearded and often bare-chested man waving wanly to onlookers gazing up at him have also struck chords.

wanness

2
noun
Example sentences
  • She maintains her wanness behind a cello, bowing away, all woebegone.
  • Then he took the perfumed linen sheet, wrapped it round him as a mantle, and turned away, to the wanness of the chill dawn.
  • Since that little cloud was dispelled all the temporary waste and wanness have vanished.

Share this entry

Share this page

 

Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove adverts and access premium resources

There are 2 main definitions of wan in English:

Share this entry

Share this page

WAN2

Syllabification: WAN

abbreviation

Computing Wide area network.
[ 1980s: acronym]

Definition of wan in:

Share this entry

Share this page

 

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.