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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Sep 23, 2012 12:39 am

• wrought •

Pronunciation: rawt • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Worked, crafted, done.

Notes: Today's Good Word is an archaic but still occasionally encountered past participle of work (see Word History). You will notice that substituting worked for it usually, well, works. Wrought up means "worked up" and overwrought means "worked up too much" (more or less). Handwrought means "hand worked" while wrought iron means "worked iron".

In Play: Today's Good Word is an amazing survivor of times when things came to pass rather than happened: "Since my designs are so traditional, I've decided to call my shop 'Ye Olde Wrought Iron Shoppe' rather than 'Mortimer's Ironworks'." For this reason, today's word fits comfortably only where antiquity is implied: "I'm sure the city fathers were unaware of the damper on population growth they had wrought in passing the ordinance against kissing in buggies. It is way past time to rescind it."

Word History: Today's word was the past participle of Middle English wyrcan "to work" and the origin of work, as well. The same root werg developed into Greek ergon "work" found in ergonomics. It also went into the making of surgery, a reduction of Latin chirurgia from Greek kheirourgia "hand-work" based on kheir "hand" + erg- "work". The o-grade, worg-, turns up in Greek organ "tool" and orgia "sacred rite," the source of English orgy, which requires quite a bit of work. The agent noun from English wyrcan was wright "worker, crafter", found in several words such as wheelwright, cartwright, and playwright (NOT playwrite!) Playwright is a loan translation of Greek dramaturge, based on dram(at)- "a play" + ergon "work". (Today we thank Christa Hegland for what she has wrought in bringing this Good Word to the attention of our good wordwright, Dr. Goodword.)
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Postby MTC » Sun Sep 23, 2012 1:13 pm

"Wreak" means "inflict." "Wrought" means "worked."

According to the OED Shorter Edition:

— USAGE The past tense of wreak is wreaked, as in rainstorms wreaked havoc yesterday, not wrought. When wrought is used in the phrase wrought havoc, it is in fact an archaic past tense of work.

So, "rainstorms wreak (inflict) havoc," but "rainstorms wrought (worked) havoc." Putting these nearly identical expressions side by side, a reader might easily conclude "wrought" is the past tense of "wreak." Is there any wonder confusion exists about the meanings of "wreak" and "wrought?"

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