Old English wrecca "wretch, stranger, exile," from Proto-Germanic *wrakjon "pursuer; one pursued" (source also of Old Saxon wrekkio, Old High German reckeo "a banished person, exile," German recke "renowned warrior, hero"), related to Old English wreccan "to drive out, punish" (see wreak). "The contrast in the development of the meaning in Eng. and German is remarkable" [OED]. Sense of "vile, despicable person" developed in Old English, reflecting the sorry state of the outcast, as presented in Anglo-Saxon verse (such as "The Wanderer"). Compare German Elend "misery," from Old High German elilenti "sojourn in a foreign land, exile."
updated on April 09, 2014