will o the wisp


New Member
How is the phrase "will o the wisp" used in conversation, speach, maybe as a metaphor. I found the meaning in the dictionary and I know the origin, but I am confused as of to use it as a metaphor. I once read it as such and could not grasp the real usage.

thank you
  • Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Strictly it means those lights which are seen at night in swamps and marshes, but I've heard it used in figurative senses to mean whimsical sprites which lead people astray.


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hello ipsofacto, and welcome to WordReference.

    This is normally written will-o'-the-wisp - but it isn't often written. I don't recall when I ever used this expression. If I did, it was to say that XXX was a will-o'-the-wisp, meaning that XXX was an illusion, something that was attractive but completely unachievable, elusive, misleading and distracting.

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    "A flibbertigibbet, a will o' the wisp, a clown ..." part of the song "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" from The Sound Of Music. Here used to describe the character Maria's flighty nature.



    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    It can also refer to a person who is scatter-brained, unreliable, or dreamy. As soon as I read the word, the song "How do you solve a problem like Maria" from the Sound of Music started playing in my mind:

    How do you solve a problem like Maria -
    A flibbertigibbet, a will o' the wisp, a cloud?
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