wraith

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

First attested 1513, in a Middle Scots translation of the Aeneid (book 10 of the Eneados of Gawin Douglas): "Nor ȝit na vayn wrathys nor gaiſtis quent / Thi char conſtrenyt bakwart forto went" (c. X, ln. 81-82; "Nor yet no vain wraiths nor quaint ghosts / constrained Thy chariot to go backward"), "Syklyke as that, thai ſay, in diuers placis / The wraithis walkis of goiſtis that ar ded" (c. XI, ln. 95-96; "Such as that, they say, in diverse places / The wraiths walk of ghosts that are dead"), "Thydder went this wrath or ſchaddo of Ene, / That ſemyt, all abaſyt, faſt to fle" (c. XI, ln. 129-130; "Thither went this wraith or shade of Ene, / That seemed, all abased, fast to flee").

The word has no certain etymology. J. R. R. Tolkien favored a link with writhe. Also compared are Scots warth and Old Norse vǫrðr (watcher, guardian), whence Icelandic vörður (guard). See also wray/bewray, from Middle English wreien[1]. Perhaps from wrath as a wraith is a vengeful spirit.

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Noun[edit]

wraith (plural wraiths)

  1. A ghost or specter, especially a person's likeness seen just after their death.
    • 1513, Gawin Douglas, chapter XI, in The Æneid of Virgil: Translated into Scottish Verse[2], volume II, The Bannatyne Club edition, Edinburgh: T Constable, translation of Virgilii Eneados by Publi Vergili Maronis, published 1839, line 95, page 646:
      The wraithis walkis of goistis that ar ded,
    • 1917, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars[3], HTML edition, The Gutenberg Project, published 2008:
      We might indeed have been the wraiths of the departed dead upon the dead sea of that dying planet for all the sound or sign we made in passing.
    • 2001, Joyce Carol Oates, Middle Age: A Romance, paperback edition, Fourth Estate, page 80:
      Like wraiths with the impediments of bodies they stumbled in the direction of Salthill faces.

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