First attested 1513, in the Middle Scots translation of the Aeneid: "Nor ᵹit na vayn wrathys nor gaiſtis quent Thi char conſtrenyt bakwart forto went," "Syklyke as that, thai ſay, in diuers placis The wraithis walkis of goiſtis that ar ded," "Thydder went this wrath or ſchaddo of Ene, That ſemyt, all abaſyt, faſt to fle,". (translation?)
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. Perhaps from wrath as a wraith is a vengeful spirit.
wraith (plural wraiths)
- A ghost or specter, especially a person's likeness seen just after their death.
1917, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars, 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.
- See also Thesaurus:ghost