Imp: Wikis


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Close-up image of the Lincoln Imp at the Medieval Cathedral of Lincoln, England.
Old woodcut depicts a woman feeding Imps.

An imp is a mythological being similar to a fairy or demon, frequently described in folklore and superstition. The word may perhaps derive from the term ympe, used to denote a young grafted tree.

Imps are considered "fallen fairies" and are often described as mischievous more than seriously threatening, and as lesser beings rather than more important supernatural beings. The attendants of the devil are sometimes described as imps. They are usually described as lively and having small stature.


Originating from Germanic folklore, the imp was a small lesser demon. It should also be noted that, unlike in the Christian faith and stories, demons in Germanic legends were not necessarily always evil. Imps were often mischievous rather than evil or harmful, and in some regions they were portrayed as attendants of the gods.

Imps are often shown as small and not very attractive creatures. Their behavior is described as being wild and uncontrollable, much the same as fairies, and in some cultures they are considered the same beings, both sharing the same sense of free spirit and enjoyment of all things fun. It was later in history that people began to associate fairies with being good and imps with being malicious and evil. However, both creatures were fond of pranks and misleading people. Most of the time, the pranks were harmless fun, but some could be upsetting and harmful, such as switching babies or leading travelers astray in places they were not familiar with. Though imps are often thought of as being immortal, many cultures believed that they could be damaged or harmed by certain weapons and enchantments, or be kept out of people's homes by the use of wards.

Imps were often portrayed as lonely little creatures always in search of human attention. They often used jokes and pranks as a means of attracting human friendship, which often backfired when people became tired or annoyed of the imp's endeavors, usually driving it away.

Even if the imp was successful in getting the friendship it sought, it often still played pranks and jokes on its friend, either out of boredom or simply because this was the nature of the imp. This trait gave way to using the term “impish” for someone who loves pranks and practical jokes.

To this end it came to be believed that imps were the familiar spirit servants of witches and warlocks, where the little demons served as spies and informants. During the time of the witch hunts, supernatural creatures such as imps were sought out as proof of witchcraft, though often the so called “imp” was typically a black cat, lizard, toad or some other form of uncommon pet.

Imps have also been described as being “bound” or contained in some sort of object, such as a sword or crystal ball. In other cases imps were simply kept in a certain object and summoned only when their masters had need of them. Some even had the ability to grant their owners wishes, much like a genie. This was the object of the 1891 story The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis Stevenson, which told of an imp contained in a bottle that would grant the owner their every wish, the catch being that the owners soul would be sent to hell if they didn't sell the bottle to a new owner before their death.

Imps can be found in art and architecture through out the world, usually carefully and painstakingly hidden so they can only be found by the most interested and observant of people.

See also

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

'IMP (0. Eng. impa, a graft, shoot; the verb impian is cognate with Ger. impfen, to graft, inoculate, and the Fr. enter; the ultimate origin is probably the Gr. 4t4 6ecv, to implant, cf. µ tyros, engrafted), originally a slip or shoot of a plant or tree used for grafting. This use is seen in Chaucer (Prologue to the Monk's Tale, 68) "Of fieble trees ther comen wrecched ympes." The verb "to imp" in the sense of "to graft" was especially used of the grafting of feathers on to the wing of a falcon or hawk to replace broken or damaged plumage, and is frequently used metaphorically. Like "scion," "imp" was till the 17th century used of a member of a family, especially of high rank, hence often used as equivalent to "child." The New English Dictionary quotes an epitaph (1584) in the Beauchamp chapel at Warwick, "Heere resteth the body of the noble Impe Robert of Dudley ... sonne of Robert Erle of Leycester." The current use of the word for a small devil or mischievous sprite is due to the expressions "imp of Satan, or of the devil or of hell," in the sense of "child of evil." It was thus particularly applied to the demons supposed to be the "familiar" spirits of witches.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also imp.




Etymology 1

Old English impa ("graft"). Cognate with Danish ympe, German Impf, Swedish ymp.




imp (plural imps)

  1. (originally) A malevolent supernatural creature, similar to a demon but smaller and less powerful.
  2. (figuratively) A mischievous child.
Related terms
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

Etymology 2

Old English impian, apparently ultimately from a Latin source. Cognate with German impfen.


to imp

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to imp (third-person singular simple present imps, present participle imping, simple past and past participle imped)

  1. (obsolete) To plant or engraft.
  2. (falconry) To engraft feathers into a bird's wing.
    "For, if I imp my wing on Thine",--Herbert (1633)
  3. To eke out, strengthen, enlarge.


Simple English

This article is about the mythical creature. For other uses see IMP.
showing woman feeding imps]]

An imp is a mythological creature similar to a fairy or demon, usually described in folklore and superstition. The word is related to impious.

Imps are usually described as mischievous more than a serious threat, and as lesser creatures, not important supernatural beings. The small helpers who attend the devil are sometimes described as imps. They are usually described as small and very active.

Imps were the common name given to familiar spirits that served witches in the middle ages. Imps were usually kept inside artifacts such as gemstone pieces or vials and summoned for service by magics.

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