Printable Version
Pronunciation: wis(t)-fêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Beset by melancholic longing or mournful regret, 'a wistful lady'. 2. Sadly pensive, mournfully contemplative, 'a wistful glance'.

Notes: This seldom used, almost poetic adjective, comes with a common adverb, wistfully, and a rarely used negative form, wistless "inattentive, unobservant". The noun is made with the ubiquitous English noun suffix, -ness: wistfulness.

In Play: This word can refer to human feelings: "As she scraped the creamed eel and salmagundi from plate after plate, Prudence began to feel wistful at having so mistaken the tastes of her dinner guests." But it is most often used in reference to things that make people wistful: "When asked about his childhood, a wistful smile overtook his lips."

Word History: Today's Good Word seems to be an alteration of obsolete wistly "intently" influenced by wishful. Wistly may be a variant of whistly "silently" from whist "silent", which was based on whist "hush!", an interjection calling for silence that arose in Middle English. Etymologists' best guess is that it is of imitative origin. All this, as you can see, is highly speculative. Some etymological dictionaries simply say, "Of unknown origin."

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!