wist·​ful | \ ˈwist-fəl How to pronounce wistful (audio) \

Definition of wistful

1 : full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy also : inspiring such yearning a wistful memoir
2 : musingly sad : pensive a wistful glance

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Other Words from wistful

wistfully \ ˈwist-​fə-​lē How to pronounce wistful (audio) \ adverb
wistfulness noun

Wistful Has a Wishful History

Are you yearning to know the history of wistful? If so, we can ease your melancholy a little by telling you that wistful comes from a combination of wishful and wistly, a now obsolete word meaning "intently." We can't say with certainty where wistly came from, but it may have sprung from whistly, an old term meaning "silently" or "quietly." How did the supposed transition from a word meaning "quietly" to one meaning "intently" come about? That's something to muse about, but the answer isn't known.

Examples of wistful in a Sentence

She was wistful for a moment, then asked, “Do you remember the old playground?”. He had a wistful look on his face.
Recent Examples on the Web The performance had a breezy ease, though there was still a bit of wistful poignancy as live music and touring remain just out of reach due to the pandemic. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, "Kacey Musgraves Covers Willie Nelson’s ‘On the Road Again’ at Matthew McConaughey’s Texas Benefit," 22 Mar. 2021 In this case, the beginning was was bittersweet, the slow movement of George Walker's First String Quartet, evincing a wistful melancholy in the hands of four orchestra musicians. Rob Hubbard, Star Tribune, "Minnesota Orchestra strikes a hopeful note as it prepares to bring back audiences," 20 Mar. 2021 Levine tapped into the mellow harmonic richness and wistful poignancy of the music, almost as if offering Sachs consolation, as if urging him not to lose his faith in people. New York Times, "Taking Stock of James Levine’s Tarnished Legacy," 17 Mar. 2021 For years, many doctors had turned these people away, with wistful references to legal requirements, but Shavelson didn’t want to do that. Katie Engelhart, The Atlantic, "‘I’m the Doctor Who Is Here to Help You Die’," 2 Mar. 2021 There are 35 to 40 cabins on the lake now, each one a heartbreaker to Joyce, who's wistful about the days of bountiful wildlife and few people. Star Tribune, "Storied Gunflint Trail hints of change," 12 Feb. 2021 It’s the kind of line Irby deploys to delicious effect throughout her books—at once wistful, snarky, and just a bit morbid. The Atlantic Culture Desk, The Atlantic, "The Books Briefing: The Best Books of 2020," 25 Dec. 2020 The old-time dance music — merry and sweet, or slower and wistful — evoked the lively jigs and reels of the Scots-Irish pioneers who settled in these rugged hills generations ago. New York Times, "In the Ozarks, the Pandemic Threatens a Fragile Musical Tradition," 3 Feb. 2021 Not bleak, but wistful, conveying the way the relentless cultural push for seasonal cheer can stir up dormant undercurrents of sadness or longing. Gilbert Garcia, ExpressNews.com, "Garcia: What the greatest Christmas song can teach us this year," 23 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'wistful.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of wistful

1714, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for wistful

blend of wishful and obsolete English wistly intently

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Time Traveler for wistful

Time Traveler

The first known use of wistful was in 1714

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Last Updated

24 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Wistful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wistful. Accessed 13 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for wistful



English Language Learners Definition of wistful

: having or showing sad thoughts and feelings about something that you want to have or do and especially about something that made you happy in the past


wist·​ful | \ ˈwist-fəl How to pronounce wistful (audio) \

Kids Definition of wistful

: feeling or showing a quiet longing especially for something in the past

Other Words from wistful

wistfully \ -​fə-​lē \ adverb There had been a time, he remembered it wistfully, when things had been quite different … — Robert Lawson, Rabbit Hill

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