Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Full of melancholy longing or wishful yearning.
  • adjective Expressing sadness or yearning.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Silent; hushed; standing in mute attention.
  • Full of thoughts; contemplative; musing; pensive.
  • Wishful; longing.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adjective Longing; wishful; desirous.
  • adjective Full of thought; eagerly attentive; meditative; musing; pensive; contemplative.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective full of yearning or longing
  • adjective sad and thoughtful

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

  • adjective showing pensive sadness

Etymologies

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

[Alteration (influenced by wishful) of obsolete wistly, intently, perhaps from variant of whistly, whishtly, silently, from whist, silent, from whist, hush! (interjection calling for silence), from Middle English, of imitative origin.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Presumably from *whistful, from whist ("silent") + -ful, based on older wistly. It is implausible that it derives from wishful, the required sound change being wishful → *wisful → wistful, and could not occur in Modern English, particularly not with wishful continuing in use. However, the sense of “longing” appears to be influenced by wishful, with wistful being an ambiguous poetic word.

Examples

  • It made me want to hold on tight to things and to people… His words trailed off, his expression wistful.

    Lipstick in Afghanistan

  • She glanced out the window, her expression wistful.

    City of Glass

  • She glanced out the window, her expression wistful.

    Cassandra Clare: The Mortal Instrument Series

  • The younger man watched the First Officer leave, his expression wistful, before turning back to the others.

    YESTERDAY’S SON

  • The younger man watched the First Officer leave, his expression wistful, before turning back to the others.

    YESTERDAY’S SON

  • The younger man watched the First Officer leave, his expression wistful, before turning back to the others.

    YESTERDAY’S SON

  • He grinned with a certain wistful pathos in his ring-battered countenance, and went on cherishing his strength with the jealousy of which only Age is capable.

    A PIECE OF STEAK

  • He grinned with a certain wistful pathos in his ring-battered countenance, and went on cherishing his strength with the jealousy of which only Age is capable.

    A PIECE OF STEAK

  • And then, if he is at all observant, he may be aggrieved and astonished to find her again wistful or hurt.

    Married Love: or, Love in Marriage

  • He grinned with a certain wistful pathos in his ring-battered countenance, and went on cherishing his strength with the jealousy of which only Age is capable.

    A Piece of Steak

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