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From Middle English writhen, from Old English wrīþan, from Proto-West Germanic *wrīþan, from Proto-Germanic *wrīþaną (to weave, twist, turn) (compare Old High German rīdan (to wind, turn), Old Norse ríða (to wind)), from Proto-Indo-European *wreyt- (to twist, writhe). Compare Lithuanian riēsti (to unbend, wind, roll).


  • enPR: th, IPA(key): /ɹaɪð/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -aɪð


writhe (third-person singular simple present writhes, present participle writhing, simple past writhed or (archaic) wrothe, past participle writhed or (archaic) writhen)

  1. (transitive) To twist, to wring (something).
  2. (transitive) To contort (a part of the body).
    • 1603, Michel de Montaigne, chapter 17, in John Florio, transl., The Essayes [], book II, London: [] Val[entine] Simmes for Edward Blount [], OCLC 946730821:
      Cicero (as I remember) had gotten a custome to wryth his nose, which signifieth a naturall scoffer.
    • 1906, Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman:
      She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good.
      She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood.
      They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
      Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
      Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
      The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!
  3. (intransitive) To twist or contort the body; to be distorted.
    • 2011 October 1, Phil McNulty, “Everton 0-2 Liverpool”, in BBC Sport:
      The game was engulfed in controversy when Rodwell appeared to win the ball cleanly in a midfield challenge with Suarez. The tackle drew an angry response from Liverpool's players- Lucas in particular as Suarez writhed in agony - but it was an obvious injustice when the England Under-21 midfielder was shown the red card.
  4. (transitive) To extort.



writhe (plural writhes)

  1. (rare) A contortion.
  2. (knot theory) The number of negative crossings subtracted from the number of positive crossings in a knot


Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of writhen