One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1A phosphorescent light seen hovering or floating at night over marshy ground, thought to result from the combustion of natural gases; ignis fatuus.
mirage, hallucination, apparition, phantasm, phantom, vision, spectre, fantasy, figment of the imagination, trick of the lightView synonyms
- ‘Pale blue light, the colour of Egewe's hair or a will-o'-the-wisp, filled the room.’
- ‘I saw it now, a dull orange will-o'-the-wisp bobbing and winking through the trees.’
- ‘When lit, the cloth can be made to dance like a will-o'-the-wisp in the dark - a stunt that would definitely not amuse a modern fire marshal.’
- 1.1 A person or thing that is difficult or impossible to find, reach, or catch.
- ‘When confronted by the sacraments crisis, Louis XV had tried desperately to avoid treading on clerical toes and had pursued the will-o'-the-wisp of a ‘third way’ that could unite moderates against the fanatics on both sides.’
- ‘He was a will-o'-the-wisp, more of a concept than a man.’
- ‘And yet if a writer succeeds in catching the will-o'-the-wisp she will go on existing, elusive and transformed, in the character she has created.’
- ‘She strained ever harder, blocking out all distractions, chasing a will-o'-the-wisp through uncharted paths in her own mind.’
- ‘As the years passed, he became even more of a will-o'-the-wisp; not to be pinned down; difficult to track.’
Early 17th century: originally as Will with the wisp, the sense of wisp being ‘handful of (lighted) hay’.
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