Definition of waif in English:



  • 1A homeless, neglected, or abandoned person, especially a child.

    ‘she is foster-mother to various waifs and strays’
    • ‘With the exception of a saintly matron, called Mama Sunshine, who collects waifs and strays, grown-ups are not to be trusted.’
    • ‘It was hard to believe this modest little place was charity shop Barnardo's, once associated with sale of second-hand items to raise funds for waifs and orphans.’
    • ‘Tavistock Street already has a number of problems which seem to be exacerbated by a policy of housing the waifs and strays of the borough nearby.’
    • ‘With the spread of Sunday schools and increasing literacy a huge market for religious fiction was created, stories of street waifs by such writers as ‘Hesba Stretton’ being particularly popular.’
    • ‘At his St Thomas's gym, on the run-down hill on Wincobank, world-class boxers spar among a small band of waifs and strays aged from five to 50.’
    • ‘Winter for Kiev's waifs and strays is a cold, bleak daily battle for survival.’
    • ‘Like Lessing during the 1960s, Frances is a ‘housemother’, who fills her large home with an eclectic mixture of waifs, strays and scroungers.’
    • ‘Artful Dodgers are on every street corner waiting for poor orphaned waifs.’
    • ‘The labor movement used the dominant culture's gendered representations of fallen women, tramps and street waifs to assert their demands for a living wage and an eight hour day.’
    • ‘I used to pick up all sorts of collarless waifs and strays from our housing estate in Ireland.’
    • ‘This is the simplified world of a child's memories - although Joe is no naïve waif - and it is largely remembered with fondness.’
    • ‘The youngsters have raised £1,800 towards the almost completed first safe house for Ukrainian waifs and strays, paid for and equipped by Kendal-based charity New Beginnings.’
    • ‘It will also act as a staging post for medical care and feeding for some of Kiev's 10,000 homeless waifs and strays.’
    • ‘Experts estimate that China has at least 150,000 waifs between the ages of 10 and 15 wandering its streets.’
    • ‘Mrs Tarpen had no problem with that idea, and she rather liked the idea of helping a homeless waif off the streets.’
    • ‘Merlin, Jo and Ollie are siblings; waifs and strays with an absent father and a hopeless mother who locks them out of the house for long periods.’
    • ‘Your willingness to help others is admirable, but unless you're a registered charity you'd best contain your habit of taking in waifs and offering them a hot bath and food.’
    • ‘Dutton's Epoch label seems to be turning into a home for British music's foundlings, but Cyril Scott is one of the more deserving of those waifs and strays.’
    • ‘Artie enters with a lost teen waif named Donna whom he found in an elevator.’
    • ‘Coogan essentially reprises the role that made him famous, only this time he's an immigrant waif orphaned during his sea passage from the Old World.’
    ragamuffin, street urchin, guttersnipe
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 A person who appears thin or poorly nourished.
      ‘skimpily clad waifs pranced down the catwalk’
      • ‘In an era of waifs and buffed bodies, the full-figured beauties in Rubens's works have a graceful nobility.’
      • ‘It's what the cool waif girls would throw on effortlessly but still look amazing.’
      • ‘Zorina was no ethereal waif; she gave sturdy, supple body to the classical dance.’
      • ‘Lauren had changed from being a chatty, chubby, healthy child to become a withdrawn, frightened waif with ‘stick-insect thin’ arms.’
      • ‘Who thinks a white blond, blue-eyed, slender waif can commit murder?’
      • ‘A dark Goth pop spectacle, should one exist, would work best with a pale, dark-haired waif, who moves in a dreamy ethereal manner - a buxom earth mother cast in this role would simply spoil the whole look.’
      • ‘British waif Kate Moss was to follow, helping to launch his unisex perfume CK one.’
      • ‘In January 1945, at 13, she emerged from a Nazi labor camp in Czestochowa, Poland, a waif on the verge of death.’
      • ‘But Nicole claims that she's always been a tiny bony little waif, and during season one of The Simple Life, she was going through a rare chubby period.’
      • ‘Jay, dear, go get her luggage, this little waif who was obviously underfed in London, shouldn't have to carry her own.’
      • ‘There were more of those girls than there were little waif heroin-looking chicks.’
      • ‘You appreciate someone with a few extra pounds (as opposed to, say, the starving waifs you presented me with?)’
      • ‘Once a tiny, flitting waif, she had become a graceful, full-figured woman.’
      • ‘Robby's wife was a beautiful yet petite waif of a woman with straight, jet black hair.’
      • ‘Britney has bridged the gap between knowing teenage waif and sex bomb.’
      • ‘The waifs are back… those small, thin people are ruling the media.’
      • ‘I am not some anaemic little waif who looks like she'll blow away in a strong wind.’
      • ‘Carilya was odd, a slender frail-looking girl, though no longer the skinny waif she had been.’
      • ‘Those movies wanted us to see her as a Pre-Raphaelite figure but she verged on a Walter Keane waif.’
    2. 1.2 An abandoned pet animal.
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’


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.