Is the phrase "wistful longing" redundant?
August 3, 2016 3:13 AM   Subscribe

In other words, can one long for something in a manner that doesn't demonstrate wistfulness? Can one be wistful without longing for something (a person, a missed opportunity, whatever)?
posted by t(h)om(as) to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
To me, wistful connotes regret or sadness but longing on its own has no such baggage. I can long for french fries without regretting it or feeling melancholy about my desire for said fries.
posted by xyzzy at 3:24 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's redundant. I long for the day when I no longer have to work and can spend all day playing with my dog. I smile wistfully when thinking about an old friend, even though I don't long to reconnect with that friend.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:27 AM on August 3, 2016

Best answer: You can certainly long for something in a non-wistful manner; wistful longing implies an element of melancholy or nostalgia, and it's quite possible to have a longing for (e.g. an olympic medal, a sports car) that isn't wistful in nature.

Can you be wistful without longing? Yes, you can. Wistfulness is inherently a vague state of mind, and can exist without any specific object of longing.

The phrase "wistful longing" is, however, one I'd probably avoid using, not because the two words can't be paired at all, but because 'wistful' is so frequently used to imply longing that it's hard to make a case that there's no redundancy in the pairing without a very specific context that makes the words work in a non-redundant way (and I can't think of one).
posted by pipeski at 3:34 AM on August 3, 2016

To me, 'wistful' is more firmly confined to things past and that will never be again, and has a meditative quality about it, while longing is more diffuse in terms of time and quality. Like, if you are fiercely longing for your love it may be that it's because he/ she is far away and you miss them terribly, or because you two broke up and your life is dominated by missing them etc., while if you are wistfully longing for your love it's because the event that took them away is way in the past, you came to terms with it, and the memory of those days is bitter-sweet, kind of.

The Oxford English Dictionary (British & World) has this example for 'longing':

Miranda felt a wistful longing for the old days
posted by miorita at 3:50 AM on August 3, 2016

Sad longing - like, really sad.

Anticipatory longing - more happy, eager, night-before-Christmas.

Obsessive longing - more obsessive than "wistful" would be.

Secret longing - makes you smile to yourself, but takes less time than wistfulness.


Wistful reverie - I remember times that were happy, but I'm just as happy now and wouldn't change things.

Wistful boredom - I'm vaguely dissatisfied and half-asleep, but I don't have anything specific to wish for.


"Wistful" seems non-specific and mild; "Longing" seems intense and focused; "Wistful longing" seems to be an intermediate state.
posted by amtho at 3:53 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, all.
posted by t(h)om(as) at 4:30 AM on August 3, 2016

Longing can be passionate and fierce, and therefore not wistful at all.
posted by shelleycat at 8:46 AM on August 3, 2016

Even of it's redundant, redundancy isn't always bad writing. It's often used for emphasis. Furious anger, passionate ardor, melancholy sadness. You can make a conscious choice to use redundancy as part of your writing toolkit.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:39 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bitter. Longing can be bitter.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:49 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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