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sylph a member of a race of beings or spirits supposed to inhabit the air (originally in the system of Paracelsus); the word is recorded from the mid 17th century, coming from modern Latin sylphes, sylphi, and the German plural Sylphen, and may ultimately be based on Latin sylvestris ‘of the woods’ + nympha ‘nymph’. From the mid 19th century, the term has been applied to a slender and graceful woman or girl.