Thursday, February 23, 2023

Language Of Confusion: Verse, Part VIII

Yet another part in our look at words descended from the Proto Indo European wer-to turn or bend. These ones all start with “wr”.
First, a word that I believe I mentioned before: wrist. It comes from the Old English wrist, so no big changes in recent history, and before that the Proto Germanic wristiz. That’s from the Proto Indo European wreik-, to turn, from wer-, because wrists turn and bend.
Next is wrinkle, which… I guess I can see it. It showed up in the early fifteenth century and is thought to be from the Old English word gewrinclod, wrinkled, crooked, or winding, and it would be so stupid if it isn’t related to wrinkle, and so typical of etymology. Anyway, that’s from wrinclian, to wind, from the Proto Germanic wrankjan, from wergh-, another word I’ve mentioned in previous weeks as being related to wer-. I mean, wrinkles are kind of turns, when something gets all bunched up, the surface is turning.
Then there’s wreath, from the Old English wriða, a bandage or band, or a fillet. Um, yeah, it didn’t mean wreath at first, but then in the mid sixteenth century, it started to be used to mean a garland, which makes sense, a wreath “turns” in a circle. It’s from the Proto Germanic writh-, from the Proto Indo European wreit-, to turn or bend, another offshoot of wer-. But seriously, fillet???
Because things can always get weirder, there’s wrath. It comes from the Old English wraeþþu, wrath, from wroð, anger or wroth. Wroth is actually the earlier word, from the Proto Germanic wraith- (which is NOT related to wraith), while wrath is actually wraith- plus the Proto Germanic suffix -itho, which is actually the ending for words like strength and depth. So wrath is wroth-th. Anyway, wraith- is from wreit-, which is from wer-, and there’s no real explanation as to how turning changed into anger. Maybe because anger is turned against someone?
Finally today is wrong of all words. It actually meant twisted or crooked in Old English, and then in the fourteenth century became what we know it as because it was used to mean the opposite of right, which also meant straight. Wrong is actually from the Old Norse rangr/vrangr, from the Proto Germanic wrang-. That’s from wrengh-, a variant of wergh-, from wer-. Wrong is wrong because it is twisted, and right means straight.
Online Etymology Dictionary
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Old English-English Dictionary


  1. I mean, wrist is obvious but you just don't think of it necessarily.

  2. I feel like all of those make sense in at least some way. They're all kinds of twisting and bending.


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