- wistful (adj.)
- 1610s, "closely attentive," perhaps from obsolete wistly "intently" (c. 1500), of uncertain origin. Perhaps formed on the model of wishful. Middle English wistful meant "bountiful, well-supplied," from Old English wist "provisions." The meaning of "longingly pensive, musing" is by 1714. Related: Wistfully; wistfulness.
- wit (v.)
- "to know" (archaic), Old English witan (past tense wast, past participle witen) "to know, beware of or conscious of, understand, observe, ascertain, learn," from Proto-Germanic *witan "to have seen," hence "to know" (source also of Old Saxon witan, Old Norse vita, Old Frisian wita, Middle Dutch, Dutch weten, Old High German wizzan, German wissen, Gothic witan "to know"), from PIE *weid- (see wit (n.)). The phrase to wit, almost the only surviving use of the verb, is first recorded 1570s, from earlier that is to wit (mid-14c.), probably a loan-translation of Anglo-French cestasavoir, used to render Latin videlicet (see viz.).
- wit (n.)
- "mental capacity," Old English wit, witt, more commonly gewit "understanding, intellect, sense; knowledge, consciousness, conscience," from Proto-Germanic *wit- (source also of Old Saxon wit, Old Norse vit, Danish vid, Swedish vett, Old Frisian wit, Old High German wizzi "knowledge, understanding, intelligence, mind," German Witz "wit, witticism, joke," Gothic unwiti "ignorance"), from PIE *weid- "to see," metaphorically "to know" (see vision). Related to Old English witan "to know" (source of wit (v.)). Meaning "ability to connect ideas and express them in an amusing way" is first recorded 1540s; that of "person of wit or learning" is from late 15c. For nuances of usage, see humor (n.).
A witty saying proves nothing. [Voltaire, Diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers]
Witjar was old slang (18c.) for "head, skull." Witling (1690s) was "a pretender to wit."
Wit ought to be five or six degrees above the ideas that form the intelligence of an audience. [Stendhal, "Life of Henry Brulard"]
- witch (n.)
- Old English wicce "female magician, sorceress," in later use especially "a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or evil spirits and to be able by their cooperation to perform supernatural acts," fem. of Old English wicca "sorcerer, wizard, man who practices witchcraft or magic," from verb wiccian "to practice witchcraft" (compare Low German wikken, wicken "to use witchcraft," wikker, wicker "soothsayer").
OED says of uncertain origin; Liberman says "None of the proposed etymologies of witch is free from phonetic or semantic difficulties." Klein suggests connection with Old English wigle "divination," and wig, wih "idol." Watkins says the nouns represent a Proto-Germanic *wikkjaz "necromancer" (one who wakes the dead), from PIE *weg-yo-, from *weg- (2) "to be strong, be lively" (see wake (v.)).
That wicce once had a more specific sense than the later general one of "female magician, sorceress" perhaps is suggested by the presence of other words in Old English describing more specific kinds of magical craft. In the Laws of Ælfred (c.890), witchcraft was specifically singled out as a woman's craft, whose practitioners were not to be suffered to live among the West Saxons:
Ða fæmnan þe gewuniað onfon gealdorcræftigan & scinlæcan & wiccan, ne læt þu ða libban.
The other two words combined with it here are gealdricge, a woman who practices "incantations," and scinlæce "female wizard, woman magician," from a root meaning "phantom, evil spirit." Another word that appears in the Anglo-Saxon laws is lyblæca "wizard, sorcerer," but with suggestions of skill in the use of drugs, because the root of the word is lybb "drug, poison, charm" (see leaf (n.)). Lybbestre was a fem. word meaning "sorceress," and lybcorn was the name of a certain medicinal seed (perhaps wild saffron). Weekley notes possible connection to Gothic weihs "holy" and German weihan "consecrate," and writes, "the priests of a suppressed religion naturally become magicians to its successors or opponents." In Anglo-Saxon glossaries, wicca renders Latin augur (c. 1100), and wicce stands for "pythoness, divinatricem." In the "Three Kings of Cologne" (c. 1400) wicca translates Magi:
Þe paynyms ... cleped þe iij kyngis Magos, þat is to seye wicchis.
The glossary translates Latin necromantia ("demonum invocatio") with galdre, wiccecræft. The Anglo-Saxon poem called "Men's Crafts" has wiccræft, which appears to be the same word, and by its context means "skill with horses." In a c. 1250 translation of "Exodus," witches is used of the Egyptian midwives who save the newborn sons of the Hebrews: "Ðe wicches hidden hem for-ðan, Biforen pharaun nolden he ben." Witch in reference to a man survived in dialect into 20c., but the fem. form was so dominant by 1601 that men-witches or he-witch began to be used. Extended sense of "old, ugly, and crabbed or malignant woman" is from early 15c; that of "young woman or girl of bewitching aspect or manners" is first recorded 1740. Witch doctor is from 1718; applied to African magicians from 1836.
At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, 'she is a witch,' or 'she is a wise woman.' [Reginald Scot, "The Discoverie of Witchcraft," 1584]
- witch hazel (n.)
- 1540s, probably from Old English wice "Applied generally or vaguely to various trees having pliant branches" [OED], from wican "to bend," related to weak (see vicarious) + hæsel, used for any bush of the pine family (see hazel (n.)). The North American bush, from which a soothing lotion is made, was so called from 1670s. This is the source of the verb witch in dowsing.
- witch hunt (n.)
- 1853 in the literal sense (witch-hunting is from 1630s), from witch (n.) + hunt (n.). The extended sense is attested from 1919, American English, later re-popularized in reaction to Cold War anti-Communism.
Senator [Lee S.] Overman. What do you mean by witch hunt?
Mr. [Raymond] Robins. I mean this, Senator. You are familiar with the old witch-hunt attitude, that when people get frightened at things and see bogies, then then get out witch proclamations, and mob action and all kinds of hysteria takes place. ["Bolshevik Propaganda," U.S. Senate subcommittee hearings, 1919]
- witchcraft (n.)
- Old English wiccecræft "witchcraft, magic," from wicce (see witch) + cræft "power, skill" (see craft). Witchcraft was declared a crime in English law in 1542; trials there peaked in 1580s and 1640s but fell sharply after 1660. The last, in 1717, ended in acquittal. The Witchcraft Act was repealed 1736.
- witchery (n.)
- 1540s, from witch (n.) + -ery.
- witchy (adj.)
- 1660s, from witch (n.) + -y (2).
- witenagemot (n.)
- "Anglo-Saxon parliament," Old English witena gemot, from witena, genitive plural of wita "man of knowledge," related to wit (n.)) + gemot "assembly, council" (see moot (n.)).
- with (prep.)
- Old English wið "against, opposite, from, toward, by, near," a shortened form related to wiðer, from Proto-Germanic *withro- "against" (source also of Old Saxon withar "against," Old Norse viðr "against, with, toward, at," Middle Dutch, Dutch weder, Dutch weer "again," Gothic wiþra "against, opposite"), from PIE *wi-tero-, literally "more apart," suffixed form of root *wi- "separation" (source also of Sanskrit vi, Avestan vi- "asunder," Sanskrit vitaram "further, farther," Old Church Slavonic vutoru "other, second").
Sense shifted in Middle English to denote association, combination, and union, partly by influence of Old Norse vidh, and also perhaps by Latin cum "with" (as in pugnare cum "fight with"). In this sense, it replaced Old English mid "with," which survives only as a prefix (as in midwife). Original sense of "against, in opposition" is retained in compounds such as withhold, withdraw, withstand. Often treated as a conjunction by ungrammatical writers and used where and would be correct. First record of with child "pregnant" is recorded from c. 1200. With it "cool" is African-American vernacular, recorded by 1931. French avec "with" was originally avoc, from Vulgar Latin *abhoc, from apud hoc, literally "with this."
- withal (adv.)
- "in addition," late 14c., from Middle English with alle (c. 1200), superseding Old English mid ealle "wholly" (see with).
- withdraw (v.)
- early 13c. (transitive), "to take back," from with "away" + drawen "to draw," possibly a loan-translation of Latin retrahere "to retract." Intransitive sense from mid-13c. Sense of "to remove oneself" is recorded from c. 1300. Related: Withdrawn; withdrawing.
- withdrawal (n.)
- 1820s, "act of taking back," also "retraction of a statement," from withdraw + -al (2). Earlier words in the same sense were withdrawment (1640s); withdraught (mid-14c.). Meaning "removal of money from a bank, etc." is from 1861; psychological sense is from 1916; meaning "physical reaction to the cessation of an addictive substance" is from 1929 (with an isolated use from 1897; withdrawal symptom is from 1910). As a synonym for coitus interruptus from 1889.
- withe (n.)
- Old English wiððe "twisted cord, tough, flexible twig used for binding, especially a willow twig," from PIE *withjon-, from PIE *wei- (1) "to turn, twist" (see withy).
- wither (v.)
- 1530s, alteration of Middle English wydderen "dry up, shrivel" (late 14c.), intransitive, apparently a differentiated and special use of wederen "to expose to weather" (see weather (v.)). Compare German verwittern "to become weather-beaten," from Witter "weather." Transitive sense from 1550s. Related: Withered; withering; witheringly.
- withers (n.)
- 1570s, probably from a dialectal survival of Old English wiðer "against, contrary, opposite" (see with) + plural suffix. Usually said to be so called because the withers are the parts of the animal that oppose the load. Compare German Widerrist "withers," from wider "against" + Rist "wrist."
- see widdershins.
- withhold (v.)
- c. 1200, from with- "back, away" (see with) + holden "to hold" (see hold (v.)); probably a loan-translation of Latin retinere "to withhold." Related: Withheld; withholding. Past participle form withholden was still used 19c.
- within (adv., prep.)
- Old English wiðinnan "within, from within," literally "against the inside," see with + in.
- without (adv., prep.)
- Old English wiðutan "outside of, from outside," literally "against the outside" (opposite of within), see with + out (adv.). As a word expressing lack or want of something (opposite of with), attested from c. 1200. In use by late 14c. as a conjunction, short for without that.
- withstand (v.)
- Old English wiðstandan "resist, oppose," from wið "against" (see with) + standan "to stand" (see stand (v.)); perhaps a loan-translation of Latin resistere "to resist" (see resist). Similar formation in Old Norse viðstanda, Old Frisian withstonda, Old High German widarstan, German widerstehen. In 14c. and early 15c., withsit was in use with the same meaning. Related: Withstood; withstanding.
- withy (n.)
- Old English wiðig "willow, willow twig," from Proto-Germanic *with- "willow" (source also of Old Norse viðir, Danish vidje, Swedish vide, Old High German wida, German Weide "willow"), from PIE root *wei- (1) "to bend, twist" (source also of Avestan vaeiti- "osier," Greek itea "willow," Latin vitis "vine," Lithuanian vytis "willow twig," Polish witwa, Welsh gwden "willow," Russian vitvina "branch, bough").
- witless (adj.)
- Old English witleas "foolish, mad;" see wit (n.) + -less. Phrase scared witless attested from 1975. Related: Witlessly; witlessness.
- witness (n.)
- Old English witnes "attestation of fact, event, etc., from personal knowledge;" also "one who so testifies;" originally "knowledge, wit," formed from wit (n.) + -ness. Christian use (late 14c.) is as a literal translation of Greek martys (see martyr). Witness stand is recorded from 1853.
- witness (v.)
- c. 1300, "bear testimony," from witness (n.). Meaning "affix one's signature to (a document) to establish its identity" is from early 14c. Meaning "see or know by personal presence, observe" is from 1580s. Related: Witnessed; witnessing.
- witted (adj.)
- late 14c. in compounds, "having wits" (of a certain kind), from wit (n.).
- witticism (n.)
- 1670s, coined by Dryden (as wittycism) from witty on model of criticism.
"That every witticism is an inexact thought: that what is perfectly true is imperfectly witty ...." [Walter Savage Landor, "Imaginary Conversations"]
- witting (adj.)
- "aware," mid-14c. (implied in wytindeliche (adv.)), present participle adjective from wit (v.). Related: Wittingly.
- wittol (n.)
- "compliant cuckold," late 15c., witewold, probably from witen "to know" (see wit (v.)) + ending from noun cuckold (Middle English cokewold).
- witty (adj.)
- Old English wittig "clever, wise, sagacious; in one's right mind;" see wit (n.) "intellect" + -y (2). Meaning "possessing sparkling wit" is recorded from 1580s. Related: Wittily; wittiness.
- wive (v.)
- "to marry (a woman)," Old English wifian, from wif "woman" (see wife). Compare Middle Dutch wiven. Transitive sense "provide with a wife" is from 1510s. Related: Wived; wiving.
- wivern (n.)
- see wyvern.
- wizard (n.)
- early 15c., "philosopher, sage," from Middle English wys "wise" (see wise (adj.)) + -ard. Compare Lithuanian zynyste "magic," zynys "sorcerer," zyne "witch," all from zinoti "to know." The ground sense is perhaps "to know the future." The meaning "one with magical power, one proficient in the occult sciences" did not emerge distinctly until c. 1550, the distinction between philosophy and magic being blurred in the Middle Ages. As a slang word meaning "excellent" it is recorded from 1922.
- wizardry (n.)
- 1580s, from wizard + -ry.
- wizen (v.)
- Old English wisnian, weosnian "to wither, dry up, waste away," from Proto-Germanic *wisnon (source also of Old Norse visna "to wither," Old High German wesanen "to dry up, shrivel, wither;" German verwesen "to decay, rot"), from PIE root *wei- (2) "to wither." Related: Wizened.
- an initial sound cluster in words in Old English and early Middle English; among the Old English words were wlanc "stately, splendid;" wlætung "nausea;" wlenc "pride, arrogance" (Middle English wlonk); wlite "brightness, beauty, splendor;" wlitig" radiant, physically beautiful (Middle English wliti).
- woad (n.)
- Old English wad "woad," also the blue dye made from its leaves, from Proto-Germanic *waido- (source also of Danish vaid, Old Frisian wed, Middle Dutch wede, Dutch wede, Old High German weit, German Waid "woad"), perhaps cognate with Latin vitrium "glass" (see vitreous). Formerly much cultivated; since superseded by indigo. French guède, Italian guado are Germanic loan-words.
- wobbegong (n.)
- type of Australian shark, 1852, an Aboriginal word.
- wobble (v.)
- 1650s, wabble, probably from Low German wabbeln "to wobble;" cognate with Old Norse vafla "hover about, totter," related to vafra "move unsteadily," from Proto-Germanic *wab- "to move back and forth," perhaps from PIE *webh- "to weave" (see waver). Form with -o- is from 1851. Related: Wobbled; wobbling. The noun is attested from 1690s.
- Wobbly (n.)
- 1914, member of Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.). Probably some sort of elaboration of the W aspect of the acronym.
- wobbly (adj.)
- 1849, wabbly; see wobble (v.) + -ly (1). Form with -o- is from 1851. Related: Wobbliness.
- Anglo-Saxon god, Old English, see Odin.
- woe (n.)
- late 12c., from the interjection, Old English wa!, a common exclamation of lament in many languages (compare Latin væ, Greek oa, German weh, Lettish wai, Old Irish fe, Welsh gwae, Armenian vay).
- woebegone (adj.)
- c. 1300, in expressions such as me is wo bigone "woe has beset me," from woe + begon "to beset, surround, overwhelm," from Old English began "go over, traverse; inhabit, occupy; surround, beset, overrun;" from be + go.
- woeful (adj.)
- early 14c., "afflicted with sorrow," from woe + -ful. Weakened sense of "very bad" recorded by 1610s. Related: Woefully; woefulness.
- wog (n.)
- c. 1920, "a lower-class babu shipping clerk" [Partridge]; but popularized in World War II British armed forces slang for "Arab," also "native of India" (especially as a servant or laborer), roughly equivalent to American gook; possibly shortened from golliwog. Many acronym origins have been proposed, but none has been found satisfactory. Related: Wogland.
- wok (n.)
- 1952, from Cantonese.
- past tense of wake (v.).
- wold (n.)
- Old English wald (Anglian), weald (West Saxon, Kentish) "forest, wooded upland," from Proto-Germanic *walthuz (source also of Old Saxon and Old Frisian wald, Middle Dutch woude, wold, Dutch woud, Middle Low German walde, Old High German wald, German Wald "forest," Swedish vall "pasture," Old Norse völlr "soil, field, meadow"), from PIE root *welt- "woods; wild." The sense development from "forested upland" to "rolling open country" (c. 1200) perhaps is from Scandinavian influence, or a testimony to the historical deforestation of Britain. Not current since mid-16c.; survives mainly in place names (such as Cotswold).