a small imaginary person with magic powers
Origin and usage
The noun elf comes from Old English and is of Germanic origin. It has been in use since at least the turn of the first millennium.
Elves are magical creatures from Germanic folklore, typically with an appearance similar to humans but supernaturally beautiful. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy they are fierce, powerful and immortal, while in their Christmas manifestation they are Santa’s small industrious helpers and live at the North Pole. A more recent innovation is The Elf on the Shelf, a children’s book about an elf that hides in people’s homes in the run-up to Christmas and flies back to the North Pole nightly to report to Santa on whether the occupants have been naughty or nice. Elf is part of the Macmillan Thesaurus entry ‘Characters in stories’. You can explore that entry here, and the related entry ‘Imaginary and mysterious creatures in stories’ here.
“Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves …”
(Shakespeare, The Tempest)
“Oh sweet and far from cliff and scar/The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!”
(Tennyson, The Princess)
dwarf, fairy, gnome, goblin