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From Middle English wresten, wrasten, wræsten, from Old English wrǣstan (to twist forcibly; wrench), from Proto-Germanic *wraistijaną (compare Old Norse reista (to bend, twist)), from a derivative of Proto-Indo-European *wreiḱ-. See also wry, writhe.



wrest (third-person singular simple present wrests, present participle wresting, simple past and past participle wrested)

  1. To pull or twist violently.
  2. To obtain by pulling or violent force.
    He wrested the remote control from my grasp and changed the channel.
    • Milton
      Did not she / Of Timna first betray me, and reveal / The secret wrested from me []
  3. (figuratively) To seize.
    • Macaulay
      They instantly wrested the government out of the hands of Hastings.
    • 1912: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes, Chapter 12
      There was one of the tribe of Tarzan who questioned his authority, and that was Terkoz, the son of Tublat, but he so feared the keen knife and the deadly arrows of his new lord that he confined the manifestation of his objections to petty disobediences and irritating mannerisms; Tarzan knew, however, that he but waited his opportunity to wrest the kingship from him by some sudden stroke of treachery, and so he was ever on his guard against surprise.
  4. (figuratively) To twist, pervert, distort.
    • Bible, Exodus xxiii. 6
      Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor.
    • South
      their arts of wresting, corrupting, and false interpreting the holy text
    • 1597, Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
      And, I beseech you,
      Wrest once the law to your authority;
      To do a great right do a little wrong,
      And curb this cruel devil of his will.
  5. To tune with a wrest, or key.



wrest (plural wrests)

  1. The act of wresting; a wrench or twist; distortion.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Hooker to this entry?)
  2. (obsolete) Active or motive power.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Spenser to this entry?)
  3. (music) A key to tune a stringed instrument.
    • Sir Walter Scott
      The minstrel [] wore round his neck a silver chain, by which hung the wrest, or key, with which he tuned his harp.
  4. A partition in a water wheel by which the form of the buckets is determined.

Derived terms[edit]

Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for wrest in
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)