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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],[1] a shortened form of Middle English wenchel (girl; maiden; child), from Old English wenċel, winċel (child; servant; slave),[2][3] 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[4] and adjective are derived from the noun.


  • IPA(key): /wɛnt͡ʃ/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɛntʃ


wench (plural wenches)

  1. (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.
    1. (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.
  2. (archaic or dialectal) Used as a term of endearment for a female person, especially a wife, daughter, or girlfriend: darling, sweetheart.
  3. (archaic) A woman servant; a maidservant.
  4. (archaic) A promiscuous woman; a mistress (other woman in an extramarital relationship).
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:promiscuous woman, Thesaurus:mistress
  5. (archaic) A prostitute.
  6. (US, archaic or historical) A black woman (of any age), especially if in a condition of servitude.
    Synonym: (dated, literary, now offensive) negress
    • 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.

Derived terms[edit]


  • Sranan Tongo: wenke



wench (third-person singular simple present wenches, present participle wenching, simple past and past participle wenched)

  1. (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. [], volume III, Edinburgh: [] [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.
    • 1979 October, Roald Dahl, chapter 1, in My Uncle Oswald, London: Michael Joseph, →ISBN; republished New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 2011, →ISBN:
      Already, you see, I had begun to acquire a taste for rakery and wenching among the London debutantes.


Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ wench(e, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ wenchel, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  3. ^ wench, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1926; “wench, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  4. ^ wench, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1926; “wench, v.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.


Middle English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]



  1. a promiscuous woman; a mistress (other woman in an extramarital relationship).