Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Relating to or suggestive of an elf.
  • adj. Made, done, or produced by an elf.
  • adj. Small and sprightly or mischievous.
  • adj. Having a magical quality or charm; fairylike: moved across the dimly lit stage with elfin grace.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An elf; an inhabitant of fairy-land.
  • n. A little urchin or child.
  • adj. Relating to or resembling an elf, especially in its tiny size or features.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Relating to elves.
  • n. A little elf or urchin.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. An elf; an inhabitant of fairy-land: in Spenser applied to his knights.
  • n. A little urchin or child.
  • n. Synonyms See fairy, n.
  • Relating or pertaining to elves.
  • n. An American lycænid butterfly of the genus Incisalia.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. usually good-naturedly mischievous
  • adj. relating to or made or done by or as if by an elf
  • adj. small and delicate
  • adj. suggestive of an elf in strangeness and otherworldliness

Etymologies

Probably from Middle English elvene, pl. of elve, elf, from Old English -elfen (as in wuduelfen, dryad).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English elven, from Old English elfen, ælfen ("nymph, spirit, fairy"), diminutive of elf, ælf ("elf"), equivalent to elf +‎ -en. Cognate with Middle High German elbinne ("a fairy, nymph"). (Wiktionary)
Partly from attributive use of Etymology 1, but reanalysed by Spenser as if equivalent to elf +‎ -en. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • They were having a glorious time and their gay voices and gayer laughter echoed up and down the valley, dying away in elfin cadences among the trees.

    Rainbow Valley

  • Dacrycarpus imbricatus and Leptospermum flavescens are also abundant in these forests, which because of their smaller stature are called elfin forests.

    Sumatran montane rain forests

  • Roger Ferguson, then Fed vice chairman, described Greenspan at that January meeting as "the monetary policy Yoda," referring to the elfin guru in the movie "Star Wars."

    News - latimes.com

  • Chaparral, also called the elfin forest, survives in hot, dry conditions and features plants that have thick leaves to minimize water loss and animals that have thick fur to protect them from rough undergrowth.

    AroundTheCapitol.com

  • Paul, however, had a kind of elfin blond sparkle to him.

    Ken Doss, Khe Sanh. Part 1.

  • First up, David J. Nightingale's "elfin" shot of his daughter, which was voted one of the most Noteworthy Shots for 2004 on Photo Friday.

    unbillable hours:

  • I always was thickset, "elfin" was never a possibility.

    Archive 2006-10-01

  • Medium height, the kind of face they called "elfin," with slanted ash-gray eyes and a bob of shoulder-length chrome-white hair.

    The Year's Best Science Fiction 23rd Annual Collection

  • The adjectives "elfin" and "colossal" seldom keep company together, but this instance marks a grand exception; it is a monkeyshine of unprecedented scale.

    'The Lives of John Lennon'

  • In spite of Justine's feminine graces, he had formerly felt in her a kind of elfin immaturity, as of a flitting Ariel with untouched heart and senses: it was only of late that she had developed the subtle quality which calls up thoughts of love.

    The Fruit of the Tree

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