• wretch •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A person in deep misery from distress, sorrow, poverty or other misfortune. 2. A vile, degenerate, or reprehensible person.
Notes: Today's Good Word is purely English, so we are not surprised to see that it forms a native English adjective, wretched, with the purely English suffix -ed. Notice that the adjective suffix -ed is often pronounced (compare ragged) while the past tense -ed is not (compare fetched, nagged). As the History will show, today's word is unrelated to the verb retch, even though some wretches of the third sort (see Meaning) make you want to do just that.
In Play: This Good Word is probably used more often today in referring to people we pity: "The poor wretch was told by the doctor that she had to quit eating chocolate." That would make anyone miserable. The second meaning of this word is used less frequently: "Our wretched landlord told us that we could hold parties in the apartment only if we limited the dancing to waltzes and foxtrots."
Word History: Today's word came from Old English wrecca "wretch, stranger, exile," itself from the same Old Germanic source as Modern German Recke "warrior, hero". Apparently our German cousins take a view of exiles different from ours. Old English wrecca was accompanied by the verb wreccan "to drive out, punish". That verb went on to become wreak, as in to wreak havoc, wreak anger, or wreak destruction. The Germanic languages made their words from Proto-Indo-European wreg- "to drive, push". The same root became Latin urgere "to push, urge", a word that English borrowed in two forms, urge and urgent. In Russian it emerged as vrag "enemy". (Lest we make Donald Schark a wretched man, let us thank him for suggesting today's very Good Word.)
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