1
a
chiefly Scotland : fated to die : doomed
b
: marked by a foreboding of death or calamity
another and lesser man … gave a fey lonely warningHodding Carter
2
a
: able to see into the future : visionary
Not being fey, he never suspected what it would lead to.
b
: marked by an otherworldly air or attitude
she had that half shy, half fey smile and that birdlike perkinessA. G. Ogden
c
: not mentally sound : touched
3
a
: excessively refined : precious
a fey, self-indulgent dandy
b
: quaintly unconventional : campy
… audiences howl at her off-center delivery of fey folk songs and quaint special material.Howard Teichmann
feyly adverb
feyness noun

Did you know?

Fey is a word that defies its own (original) meaning, since it has yet to even come close to the brink of death after being in our language for well over 800 years. In Old and Middle English it meant "feeble" or "sickly." Those meanings turned out to be fey themselves, but the word lived on in senses related to death, and because a wild or elated state of mind was once believed to portend death, other senses arose from these. The word fay, meaning "fairy" or "elf," may also have had an influence on some senses of fey. Not until the 20th century did the word's most recent meanings, "precious" and "campy," find their way into the dictionary.

Examples of fey in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Not that there was anything fey or fanciful about Austen’s fashion sense: Davidson stresses that Austen’s wardrobe was a hardworking affair. Kathryn Hughes, The New York Review of Books, 9 Mar. 2023 Sharp cheekbones, Pan-like movements that were more fey than androgynous. Elizabeth Winder, Rolling Stone, 24 July 2023 Back at work, she is eyed by her co-workers, the wonderfully fey Shane (Griffin Matthews) and the middle-aged worrier Megan (the terrific Rosie Perez). Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker, 28 Dec. 2020 His business rivals include the louche Chinese gangster Dry Eye (Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding) and a drab little ferret of a man called Matthew (Succession star Jeremy Strong, who delivers every line in a sort of strange, fey deadpan). Leah Greenblatt, EW.com, 23 Jan. 2020 But on the biographical front, the popular image of Dickinson as a fragile, fey, romantically disappointed recluse has been harder to shake. Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, 30 Oct. 2019 And then there’s Brooks Ashmanskas as Ronnie Wilde: Martin’s fake boyfriend and instructor in all things fey. Jesse Green, New York Times, 8 July 2018 To some readers, Ms Moshfegh’s premise may seem fey and slight. The Economist, 12 July 2018 New wavers like Depeche Mode knit the supposedly frivolous and fey sounds of disco into their gloom. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 25 June 2018 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'fey.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English feye, from Old English fǣge; akin to Old High German feigi doomed and perhaps to Old English fāh hostile, outlawed — more at foe

First Known Use

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of fey was before the 12th century

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Dictionary Entries Near fey

Cite this Entry

“Fey.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fey. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

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