Printable Version
Pronunciation: rai (r + eye) Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Twisted, crooked or bent, as a wry face. 2. Humorous with a clever twist, as a wry wit.

Notes: Today's Good Word is an adjective, which means it may be compared, as wrier wit and the wriest wit, though most dictionaries now accept wryer and wryest as well. The adverb is wryly and the noun, wryness. This healthy word family also contains awry "crooked, off course", as to go awry on the way home and arrive with your hat awry.

In Play: Today's Good Word basically means twisted or crooked: "When Shorty's waitress dropped his sandwich and bent it, she was surprised that he sent it back to the kitchen because he hadn't ordered wry bread." If you like your novels with plot twists, you should enjoy wry humor, humor with a twist of sarcasm. But don't confuse wry wit with dry wit, which is also sarcastic, but in a cold, impersonal way.

Word History: This very good word comes directly from Middle English wrien "to turn", a reduction of Old English wrigian "to twist or turn". The WR you see in it is the same you see in wring, writhe, wreath, and wrath (a somewhat twisted state). It shows up in Russian vertet' "to turn" and Latin vertere "to turn". The roots of this Latin verb appear in a host of English words about turning, such as invert, introvert and revert. The English word verse comes from versus "turned", a line of poetry written in boustrophedon. Finally, that is the same WR that we see in wriggle which, if pronounced by a child who says wabbit instead of rabbit, comes out wiggle—same words.

Dr. Goodword,

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