The Old English version of wretch was wrecca or wræcca from the Old Germanic wrakja (n). Old Saxon was wrekkio and was applied to the Magi in the Heliand as "foreigners". Sigemund, in Beowulf, is called the most famous of wreccena, as he is a wandering hero. Hengest is called a wrecca, a mercenary, but Beowulf makes a point of making sure Hrothgar does not take him for a wrecca. The woman in the OE 'Wife's Lament' calls herself a friendless exile and the man in 'The Seafarer' calls himself a wræcca, an exile, as well. Wrecca is pronounced 'wretch' as the double 'cc' has that 'tch' sound. Like wicca, which is pronounced 'witch'. It is interesting to note that English chose to emphasize the negatives aspects of the word, where the German chose the glorious. Might be a good topic for a paper.
Friday, February 10, 2012
A Tale of Two Words
The two words in question are the Modern High German recke, which means 'knight, hero, warrior'. The other word is its modern English cognate wretch, which means 'one who is sunk in deep distress, sorrow misfortune or poverty; a miserable, unhappy or unfortunate person". It was striking to me how different the modern equivalents are and to whoever wrote the entry for the Oxford English Dictionary, since the entry on the etymology of the word says 'the contrast in the development of the meaning in English and German is remarkable.' Indeed, they are light years apart. There was an Old Norse word rekkr, meaning 'man' which disappeared from modern Icelandic.