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Definition: imp 1 from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(bef. 12c) 1 obs : shoot bud; also : graft 2 a : a small demon :fiend b : a mischievous child :urchin


Summary Article: imp
from Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained

A small demonic spirit, thought to be mischievous rather than genuinely evil.

An imp is a small demonic spirit. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon impe, meaning a young shoot or sapling. Imping is an old agricultural term which refers to the technique of grafting, with the new bud being called an ‘imp’, so that in the supernatural sense, an imp is quite literally considered to be an ‘offshoot’ of Satan. Imps are the smallest and most minor of demons in mythology and superstition. They are described as dark creatures who can assume different forms, and according to some accounts, they are so desperately lonely that they always go around in pairs or groups. In later folklore, the distinction between these demonic beings and other small mischievous spirits, such as goblins and bogles, became blurred as Puritans and other religious groups came to regard all types of fairy as manifestations of satan. At the time of the witch trials of the Middle Ages, many believed that witches kept imps, in animal form, as their familiars.

The most famous imp in British legend is probably the Lincoln Imp, a little demon who was said to have wreaked havoc in Lincoln Cathedral, dancing on the altar, tripping up the bishop, pushing over the dean and teasing the choir. The cathedral’s guardian angels came to the rescue, turning the imp to stone and placing him high above the Angel Choir, at the top of one of the columns. His little figure, only about 30 centimetres (1 foot) high, still sits there with one leg across his knee, laughing wickedly, and is a great tourist attraction; it is considered something of a challenge to find him. He is regarded with great affection and has been adopted as the unofficial symbol of the city.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2007