Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English wresten, wrasten, wræsten, from Old English wrǣstan (to twist forcibly, wrench),[1] from Proto-Germanic *wraistijaną, (compare Proto-Germanic *wrīhaną (to turn, wind; to cover, envelop), *wrīþaną (to weave, twist), Old Norse reista (to bend, twist)), from a derivative of Proto-Indo-European *wreiḱ-, *wreyḱ- (to bend, twist), *wreyt- (to bend). See also writhe, wry.

The noun is derived from the verb.[2]


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

  1. (transitive) To pull or twist violently.
  2. (transitive) To obtain by pulling or violent force.
    He wrested the remote control from my grasp and changed the channel.
    • 1671, John Milton, “Samson Agonistes, []”, in Paradise Regain’d. A Poem. In IV Books. To which is Added, Samson Agonistes, London: Printed by J. M[acock] for John Starkey [], OCLC 228732398, page 42:
      [D]id not ſhe / Of Timna [Delilah] firſt betray me, and reveal / The ſecret wreſted from me in her highth / Of Nuptial Love proteſt, carrying it ſtrait / To them who had corrupted her, my Spies, / And Rivals?
    • 1858, James Foote, “Lecture LVIII. Luke XI. 14–26.”, in Lectures on the Gospel According to Luke. [...] In Two Volumes, volume I, 3rd edition, Edinburgh: Ogle & Murray, and Oliver & Boyd; London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co., OCLC 702704514, page 689:
      Does the devil strive to keep Christ out of men's hearts, and to preserve his own influence over them, by the weapon of ignorance? Christ wrests it from him by letting in a stream of light.
    • 2015, Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, “A New Life and a New Cause in Dixie”, in Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights, Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, →ISBN, page 103:
      Despite this short shrift from descendants and historians, the Jewish peddler was a valued person in rural life. Besides bringing much-needed goods and a break for those exhausted from plowing or laboriously wresting turpentine from pine trees, the visiting peddler was often respected by those God-fearing southerners for what they believed was his direct connection to the Old Testament stories they revered.
  3. (transitive, figuratively) To seize.
  4. (transitive, figuratively) To distort, to pervert, to twist.
    • c. 1596–1598, W[illiam] Shakespeare, The Excellent History of the Merchant of Venice. [] (First Quarto), [London]: Printed by J[ames] Roberts [for Thomas Heyes], published 1600, OCLC 24594216, [Act IV, scene i]:
      And I beſeech you / Wreſt once the Law to your authority, / To do a great right, do a little wrong, / And curbe this cruell deuill of his will.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), imprinted at London: By Robert Barker, [], OCLC 964384981, Exodus 23:6:
      Thou ſhalt not wreſt the iudgement of thy poore in his cauſe.
    • 1619, Philip Schaff, “The Canons of the Synod of Dort, as Held by the Reformed [Dutch] Church in America. [First Head of Doctrine. Of Divine Predestination.]”, in The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes. [...] In Three Volumes, volume III (The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations), 4th revised and enlarged edition, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, published 1877, OCLC 717752157, article VI, page 582:
      And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which, though men of perverse, impure, and unstable minds wrest it to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.
    • 1665 December 25, Robert South, “Jesus of Nazareth Proved the True and Only Promised Messiah. In a Sermon Preached at St. Mary’s, Oxon, before the University, on Christmas-Day, 1665”, in Twelve Sermons upon Several Subjects and Occasions, volume III, 5th edition, London: Printed by H. Clark, for Jonah Bowyer, at the Rose, the West-End of St. Paul's Church-Yard, published 1722, OCLC 731567810, page 295:
      [I]n the ſeveral Ages of the Church theſe Wretches ſucceſſively have been ſome of the moſt notorious Oppoſers of the Divinity of our Saviour, and would undoubtedly have overthrown the Belief of it in the World, could they by all their Arts of wreſting, corrupting, and falſe interpreting the holy Text, have brought the Scriptures to ſpeak for them; which they could never yet do.
  5. (transitive, music) To tune with a wrest, or key.
    • 1503 July, William Cornishe [i.e., William Cornysh], “In the Fleete Made by Me William Cornishe otherwise Called Nyshwhete Chapelman with the Most Famose and Noble Kyng Henry the VII. His Reygne the XIX. Yere the Moneth of July. A Treatise betwene Trouth, and Information.”, in John Skelton; J[ohn] S[tow], editor, Pithy Pleasaunt and Profitable Workes of Maister Skelton, Poete Laureate, Imprinted at London: In Fletestreate, neare vnto Saint Dunstones Churche by Thomas Marshe, published 1568, OCLC 54747393; republished as Pithy Pleasaunt and Profitable Workes of Maister Skelton, Poete Laureate to King Henry the VIIIth, London: Printed for C. Davis in Pater-noster Row, 1736, OCLC 731569711, page 290:
      The Harpe. A harpe geueth ſounde as it is ſette / The harper may wreſt it vntunablye
Derived terms[edit]
Related terms[edit]


wrest (plural wrests)

  1. The act of wresting; a wrench or twist; distortion.
    • 1676, Richard Hooker; Izaak Walton, “Book IV. Concerning Their Third Assertion, that Our Form of Church-Polity is Corrupted with Popish Orders, Rites and Ceremonies, Banished out of Certain Reformed Churches, whose Example therein We Ought to have Followed”, in The Works of that Learned and Judicious Divine, Mr. Richard Hooker, in Eight Books of Ecclesiastical Polity, Compleated out of His Own Manuscripts; with Several Other Treatises by the Same Author, and an Account of His Life and Death [by Izaak Walton], London: Printed by R. White, for Rob[ert] Scott, Tho[mas] Basset, John Wright and Rich[ard] Chiswell, and are to be sold by Robert Boulter at the Turks Head in Cornhil, OCLC 270553333, page 181:
      Whereas therefore it is concluded out of theſe ſo weak Premiſſes, that the retaining of divers things in the Church of England, which other Reformed Churches have caſt out, muſt needs argue that we do not well, unleſs we can ſhew that they have done ill; what needed this wreſt to draw out from on an accuſation of forein Churches?
  2. (music) A key to tune a stringed instrument.
  3. (obsolete) Active or motive power.
  4. (obsolete, rare) Short for saw wrest (a hand tool for setting the teeth of a saw, determining the width of the kerf); a saw set.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

A diagram of a water wheel.[3] The part marked “CD” represents the wrest, a board forming part of one of the buckets of the wheel

Possibly a variant of wrist: see the quotation. Wrist is also derived from *wrīþaną (to weave, twist), from a derivative of Proto-Indo-European *wreiḱ-, *wreyḱ- (to bend, twist), *wreyt- (to bend).


wrest (plural wrests)

  1. A partition in a water wheel by which the form of the buckets is determined.

Etymology 3[edit]

A misspelling of rest, probably influenced by wrest (etymology 1, verb and noun).[4]


wrest (plural wrests)

  1. (agriculture, dated, dialectal) A metal (formerly wooden) piece of some ploughs attached under the mouldboard (the curved blade that turns over the furrow) for clearing out the furrow; the mouldboard itself.
    • 1822, John Finlayson, “On the Art of Ploughing”, in Treatise on Agricultural Subjects, Glasgow: Printed by William Lang, 62, Bell-Street, sold by Tho[ma]s Lochhead, 2, Park Place, Stockwell; [et al.], OCLC 940228209, page 198:
      [W]hen giving ley or stubble land a single furrow for a corn crop, the sock should never be so broad as the slice, but an inch or two within it; except, like the bent-sock it comes a good way back on the wrest: because this breadth of feather materially augments the draught; and, by cutting the slice clean out, before being embraced by the wrest, frequently causes it to be shot aside, in place of being turned over.
    • 1857, John M[arius] Wilson, “PLOUGH”, in The Rural Cyclopedia, or A General Dictionary of Agriculture, and of the Arts, Sciences, Instruments, and Practice, Necessary to the Farmer, Stockfarmer, Gardener, Forester, Landsteward, Farrier, &c., volume III (K–P), Edinburgh: A[rchibald] Fullarton and Co., Stead's Place; and 106, Newgate Street, London, OCLC 36049696, page 865, column 1:
      They [turn-wrest ploughs] are now so constructed that the ploughman can readily shift his coulter by means of a lever, which reaches the bottom of the handles, and also his wrests or mould-boards from side to side, without leaving his station between the handles of his plough, they being so arranged that by withdrawing a small pin and pressing the projecting wrest towards the body of the plough, the mould-boards on either side become alternately the land side when not in work.
      In the earlier work from which this passage is taken, Cuthbert W. Johnson (1842), “PLOUGH”, in The Farmer’s Encyclopædia, and Dictionary of Rural Affairs, London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, OCLC 156079312, pages 981–982, the word rest is used.
    • 1908, Henry Stephens; James MacDonald, Stephens’ Book of the Farm: Dealing Exhaustively with Every Branch of Agriculture [...] In Three Volumes, volume I (Land and Its Equipment), division 2, 5th edition, Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons, OCLC 700481737, page 374:
      The wedge is simply two inclined planes put base to base, and the same reasoning is true of it—that is, the thinner the wedge or more gradual the slope, the more easily it is driven. Applying this to the plough, we find that the coulter, share, wrest, cheek-plates, and sole-shoe, all form more or less continuous parts of a large wedge or moving inclined plane.
Derived terms[edit]


  1. ^ wresten, adj.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 7 January 2017.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1884–1928, and First Supplement, 1933.
  3. ^ From “WATER-Works”, in Encyclopaedia Britannica; or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature, volume XX, 4th enlarged and improved edition, Edinburgh: Printed by Andrew Bell, the proprietor, for Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh; and for Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe, London, 1810, OCLC 1003901171, plate DLXXIII (between pages 680 and 681).
  4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1884–1928, and First Supplement, 1933.


Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of wrist