Printable Version
Pronunciation: rench Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To twist suddenly and forcibly, as to wrench a bolt. 2. To cause a sudden rush of anxiety or distress, as a wrenching experience. 3. To sprain or pull a muscle, as to wrench a knee or ankle.

Notes: I encounter the second and third meanings of today's Good Word on in my readings—and seldom there. They are slightly archaic, but this lends a kind of poeticity to the word. The second sense of the word is the only interpretaion it carries in the adjective sufferable, which can only mean "bearable". The same is true of its negative partner, unsufferable. As for other relatives, it comes with two nouns, the personal, sufferer, and abstract action noun, suffering.

In Play: The basic sense of today's Good Word is to twist violently: "The tornado wrenched the old chinaberry tree in Forrest Glade's back yard out of the ground by the roots." WrenchThe next meaning is a figurative extension of that basic meaning: "When Barnaby heard the voice of Celia Feight behind him, he turned his head so fast he wrenched his neck something awful." The final step in the semantic journey of today's word is its abstract psychological sense: "The most wrenching experience in Gooden Small's career was the time when Hugh Jeego threw a wrench in Gooden's chances for a promotion."

Word History: Most of the words beginning on WR come from a single source. Old English wrencan "to twist" (today's wrench) comes from the same source as Old English wringan "to wring". English writhe, wrestle, wrap, wreck, wriggle, wrist—even wrong go back to Proto-Indo-European wer- "to turn, twist" with various suffixes and the normal changes accompanying them. They are all still connected by the sense of "to twist". This root emerged in Latin as vertere "to turn", seen in the English borrowings invert, convert, pervert. The past participle of vertere is versus, another word English picked off. We see evidence of this PIE root in many Indo-European languages: Russian vertet' "to turn" and German werden "to become" from the sense of "turn into". (Lest we give Gianni Tamburini a wrench, we should thank him for such an interesting Good Word today.)

Dr. Goodword,

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