• wraith •
rayth • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A phantom, ghost, specter, evil spirit, a fetch. 2. Something faint, pale, thin or unsubstantial, a wisp, as 'a wraith of smoke'.
Notes: This word was originally and now chiefly Scottish. Do not confuse it with wrath, which means "fury, extreme anger". It comes with a rarely used adjective, wraithly, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, though no other dictionary lists it. We are more likely to meet wraithlike in normal conversation.
In Play: The literal sense of the word may be used like this: "After promising to fix Thelma's Porsche, Miss Anna Liza Carr disappeared like a wraith into the dark night." The figurative usage turns up in expressions like this: "Her constant illness had reduced his mother to a wraith of her old self."
Word History: Today's Good Word was first attested in 1513, in a Middle Scots translation of the Aeneid. It has no certain etymology. J. R. R. Tolkien thought it akin to writhe. It has also been compared to Scots English warth "omen, foreboding" and Old Norse vorðr "watcher, guardian", whence Icelandic vörður "guard". Some have suggested a relation to wray "to accuse, denounce", with the same suffix we find on width and breadth. It might even be related to wrath via the assumption that a wraith is a wrathful spirit. These are all simply educated guesses, though, without any evidence at all to substantiate them. (Now for a round of e-applause for Susan Maynard, who suggested we examine this gift from Scotland for today's Good Word.)
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