The noun is derived from Middle English wench, wenche (“female baby; girl (especially unmarried); maiden, young woman; bondwoman; serving maid; beloved, sweetheart; concubine, mistress; harlot, prostitute”) [and other forms], a shortened form of Middle English wenchel (“girl; maiden; child”), from Old English wenċel, winċel (“child; servant; slave”), from Proto-Germanic *wankilą, from Proto-Germanic *wankijaną (“to sway; waver”). The English word is cognate with Old High German wenken (“to waver; to give way, yield”), wankōn (“to totter”).
The verb and adjective are derived from the noun.
wench (plural wenches)
- (archaic, now dialectal or humorous, possibly offensive) A girl or young woman, especially a buxom or lively one.
- Jane played the role of a wench in an Elizabethan comedy.
- 1590, Philippe Sidnei [i.e., Philip Sidney], “[The Second Booke] Chapter 14”, in Fulke Greville, Matthew Gwinne, and John Florio, editors, The Covntesse of Pembrokes Arcadia [The New Arcadia], London: […] William Ponsonbie, OCLC 801077108; republished in Albert Feuillerat, editor, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia (Cambridge English Classics: The Complete Works of Sir Philip Sidney; I), Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: University Press, 1912, OCLC 318419127, page 238:
- I, like a tẽder harted wench, skriked out for feare of the divell.
- c. 1604–1605, William Shakespeare, “All’s VVell, that Ends VVell”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act IV, scene iii], page 247, column 2:
- [H]ee weepes like a wench that had ſhed her / milke, he hath confeſt himſelfe to Morgan, whom hee ſuppoſes to be a Friar, [...]
- [1611?], Homer, “Book I”, in Geo[rge] Chapman, transl., The Iliads of Homer Prince of Poets. […], London: Printed for Nathaniell Butter, OCLC 614803194; The Iliads of Homer, Prince of Poets, […] In Two Volumes, volume I, new edition, London: Charles Knight and Co., […], 1843, OCLC 987451361, page 35:
- Beside, this I affirm—afford / Impression of it in thy soul—I will not use my sword / On thee or any for a wench, unjustly though thou tak'st / The thing thou gav'st; [...]
- 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], “A Continuation of the State of England; so Well Governed by a Queen as to Need No First Minister. The Character of Such an One in Some European Courts.”, in Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. […] [Gulliver’s Travels], volume II, London: Printed for Benj[amin] Motte, […], OCLC 995220039, part IV (A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms), page 248:
- He [a chief minister] is uſually governed by a decayed Wench, or favourite Footman, who are the Tunnels through which all Graces are conveyed, and may properly be called, in the laſt Reſort, the Governors of the Kingdom.
- 1887, William Black, “New Quarters”, in Sabina Zembra: A Novel [...] In Three Volumes, volume III, London; New York, N.Y.: Macmillan and Co., OCLC 22523627, page 22:
- He was received by the daughter of the house, a pretty, buxom, blue-eyed little wench, who seemed to regard the tall, bronzed, black-eyed stranger with much and evident favour.
- (specifically) A girl or young woman of a lower class.
- 1871, W[illiam] Barry, “The Barony of Threeneheila within Drum”, in Moorland and Stream. With Notes and Prose Idyls on Shooting and Trout Fishing, London: Tinsley Brothers, […], OCLC 557029821, page 25:
- The woman is a brazen, hard-looking wench, a female pedlar, who hawks needles, thread, cheap looking-glasses, pious pictures, almanacs, hair-pins, ballads, of the most humble pattern, through the country.
- (archaic or dialectal) Used as a term of endearment for a female person, especially a wife, daughter, or girlfriend: darling, sweetheart.
- 1613, William Shakespeare; [John Fletcher], “The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act IV, scene ii], page 226, column 2:
- When I am dead, good Wench, / Let me be vs'd with Honor; ſtrew me ouer / With Maiden Flowers, that all the world may know / I was a chaſte Wife, to my Graue: [...]
- 1856, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Third Book”, in Aurora Leigh, London: Chapman and Hall, […], published 1857, OCLC 1000396166, page 126:
- The mother held her tight, / Saying hard between her teeth—'Why wench, why wench, / The squire speaks to you now—the squire's too good; / He means to set you up, and comfort us. / Be mannerly at least.'
- (archaic) A woman servant; a maidservant.
- 1526, [William Tyndale, transl.], The Newe Testamẽt […] (Tyndale Bible), [Worms, Germany: Peter Schöffer], OCLC 762018299, The Gospell off S. Luke XXII:[55–57], folios cxiiii, recto – cxiiii, verso:
- When they had kyndled a fyre in the myddes of the palys / and were sett doune to gedder / Peter alsoo sate doune amonge them. And won off the wenches / as he sate / beholde him by the light and sett goode eyesight on him / and sayde: This same was also with hym. Then he denyed hym sayinge: Woman I knowe hym nott.
- 1819, Jedadiah Cleishbotham [pseudonym; Walter Scott], chapter V, in Tales of My Landlord, Third Series. [...] In Four Volumes, volume I (The Bride of Lammermoor), Edinburgh: Printed [by James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, […]; Hurst, Robinson, and Co. […], OCLC 277985465, page 150:
- "I fear there is a chase; I think I hear three or four galloping together; I am sure I hear more horses than one." / "Pooh, pooh, it is the wench of the house that is clattering to the well in her pattens; [...]."
- (archaic) A promiscuous woman; a mistress (“other woman in an extramarital relationship”).
- [1387–1400, Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Manciples Tale”, in The Canterbury Tales (in Middle English), [Westminster: William Caxton, published 1478], OCLC 230972125; republished in [William Thynne], editor, The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed, […], [London]: Printed by [Richard Grafton for] Iohn Reynes […], 1542, OCLC 932884868, folio xcix, recto:
- There is but litel difference truely / Betwyxt a wyfe, that is of hye degre / If of her body dishoneſt ſhe be / And a poore wenche, other than this / If it ſo be they werke bothe amys / But for the gentyl is in eſtate aboue / She ſhal be called his lady and his loue / And for that tother is a poore woman / She ſhal be called his wench, or his lemmã [...]
- (please add an English translation of this quote)]
- c. 1589–1590, Christopher Marlo[we], Tho[mas] Heywood, editor, The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Ievv of Malta. […], London: Printed by I[ohn] B[eale] for Nicholas Vavasour, […], published 1633, OCLC 1121318438, Act IV:
- 2 [Friar Bernardine]. Thou haſt committed— / Bar[abas]. Fornication? but that was in another Country; And beſides, the Wench is dead.
- 1702, Mat[thew] Prior, “To a Young Gentleman in Love. A Tale.”, in Poems on Several Occasions, 2nd edition, London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, […], published 1709, OCLC 1103119849, page 103:
- Whilſt Men have theſe Ambitious Fancies, / And wanton Wenches read Romances, / Our Sex will—What? out with it: Lye: / And Theirs in equal Strains reply.
- 1712 January 15, Joseph Addison; Richard Steele, “FRIDAY, January 4, 1711–1712 [Julian calendar]”, in The Spectator, number 266, London: J[acob] and R[ichard] Tonson, OCLC 1026609121; republished in Alexander Chalmers, editor, The Spectator; a New Edition, Carefully Revised, in Six Volumes: With Prefaces Historical and Biographical, volume III, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, 1853, OCLC 191120697, page 329:
- It must not thought a digression from my intended speculation, to talk of bawds in a discourse upon wenches; for a woman of the town is not thoroughly and properly such, without having gone through the education of one of these houses.
- (archaic) A prostitute.
- (US, archaic or historical) A black woman (of any age), especially if in a condition of servitude.
- Synonym: negress (dated, literary, now offensive)
- 1776–1787, Carmelita Robertson; Elizabeth E. D. Eve, Black Loyalists of Nova Scotia: Tracing the History of Tracadie Loyalists, 1776–87 (Curatorial Report; no. 91), Halifax, N.S.: History Section, Nova Scotia Museum, Department of Tourism & Culture, published 2000, →ISBN:
- Nancy Basset, 28, likely wench, mulatto / Proved to be free. / Certified free as per General Birch Certificate. // Patience Jackson, 23, very likely wench, mulatto / Says she was born free Rhode Island. / Certified free as per General Birch Certificate.
- 1851 June – 1852 April, Harriet Beecher Stowe, “[Eliza’s Escape]”, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly, volume I, Boston, Mass.: John P[unchard] Jewett & Company; Cleveland, Oh.: Jewett, Proctor & Worthington, published 20 March 1852, OCLC 976451739, page 100:
- Now, I bought a gal once, when I was in the trade,—a tight, likely wench she was, too, and quite considerable smart— [...]
- 1866 March 2, “Sharp Wench”, in The Appeal, St. Paul; Minneapolis, Minn.: Parker, Burgett & Hardy, OCLC 10153837, page 3; quoted in Hannah Rosen, “Notes”, in Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South (Gender and American Culture), Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2009, →ISBN, footnote 186, page 282:
- A colored girl [...] was fined ten dollars in the Freedman's Court yesterday, for being drunk and disorderly. Not having the money in her possession, she requested that a guard be sent with her to her residence to procure it. The Provost allowed a guard to wait on the wench, who, as soon as she found herself inside of her own door, locked it, and left the poor guard outside without the money. He returned to court without either the wench or fine.
- 2014, Kirsten Pullen, “Light Egyptian: Lena Horne and the Representation of Black Femininity”, in Like a Natural Woman: Spectacular Female Performance in Classical Hollywood, New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, →ISBN, pages 106–107:
- So complete was this illusion, claims [Eric] Lott, that many audience members, including Mark Twain's mother, believed they were seeing authentic, biologically black performers on New York stages. Of course, wench characters seem to especially test the bounds of authentic performance. Played by men, wenches were nonetheless read by audiences as beautiful women: [...] [E]xtant photographs and engravings of wench performers do not always represent them as blacked up, [...] In antebellum minstrel shows, wench songs were most often sung about mulatto women rather than by them.
- Sranan Tongo: wenke
- (intransitive, archaic, now humorous) To frequent prostitutes; to whore; also, to womanize.
- 1638, Thomas Nabbes, The Bride, a Comedie. […], London: Printed by R[ichard] H[odgkinson] for Laurence Blaikelocke […], published 1640, OCLC 1126534284; republished in Playes, Maskes, Epigrams, Elegies, and Epithalamiums. […], London: Printed by I. Dawson, […], 1639, OCLC 316388290, Act II, scene iv:
- This is ſure ſome hide-bound ſtudent, that proportions his expence by his penſion; and wencheth at Tottenham court for ſtewed prunes and cheeſcakes.
- 1647, William Lilly, “Another Briefe Description of the Shapes and Formes of the Planets”, in Christian Astrology Modestly Treated of in Three Books. […], London: Printed by Tho[mas] Brudenell for John Partridge and Humph[rey] Blunden, […], OCLC 39806250, page 85:
- He [a man under the influence of the planet Mars] hath a marke or ſcar in his face, is broad-ſhouldered, a ſturdy ſtrong body, being bold and proud, given to mocke, ſcorne, quarrell, drinke, game and wench: which you may eaſily know by the Signe he is in; if in the houſe of ♀ he wencheth, if in ☿s he ſteals, [...]
- 1767, [Hugh Kelly], “Saturday, May 1”, in The Babler. Containing a Careful Selection from those Entertaining and Interesting Essays, which have Given the Public so much Satisfaction under that Title during a Course of Four Years, in Owen’s Weekly Chronicle, volume II, number LXVI, London: Printed for J[ohn] Newbery, […]; L. Hawes, W. Clarke, and R. Collins, […]; and J. Harrison, […], OCLC 723144896:
- In ſhort, Ned has drank, wenched, fought, and beggared himſelf, through an exalted ſolicitude for the general emolument, and is now cloſe pent up in one of our priſons, out of a pure and diſintereſted regard for the welfare of ſociety.
- 1807 March, [Charles] Dibdin, “Dibdin’s Tour. [Letter 1 … Introductory.]”, in The Polyanthos, volume IV, Boston, Mass.: Published by J[oseph] T[inker] Buckingham, […], OCLC 79264500, footnote, page 247:
- I know a clergyman who, having enjoyed for several years the world's good opinion, was turned off, through a ridiculous pique, by a young nobleman to whom he was preceptor. [...] He drank, wenched, and was so complete a gambler, that, had he kept his old situation much longer, he would have ruined the principles of his pupil.
- 1822 May 29, [Walter Scott], chapter VIII, in The Fortunes of Nigel. [...] In Three Volumes, volume III, Edinburgh: Printed [by James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., OCLC 277973588, page 231:
- This Dalgarno does not drink so much, or swear so much, as his father; but he wenches, Geordie, and he breaks his word and oath baith.
- 1972, Philip K[indred] Dick, chapter 1, in We Can Build You (DAW SF Books; no. 14), New York, N.Y.: DAW Books, OCLC 1320726; republished London: HarperVoyager, HarperCollins, 2008, →ISBN, page 11:
- Bundy's reasons for leaving the Cape are obscure. He drinks, but that doesn't dim his powers. He wenches. But so do we all.
- ^ “wench(e, n.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “wenchel, n.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “wench, n.”, in OED Online , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926; “wench, n.” in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press.
- ^ “wench, v.”, in OED Online , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926; “wench, v.” in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press.