Write this word in italics and you may see the w writhing in its spiral. The very juxtaposition of w and r at the beginning may invoke a mental entanglement: two sounds too similar to say in sequence. So we say the one, with its attendant lip-rounding, and think the other before it. And then the tongue writhes in the mouth, flopping like a fish from the retroflex [r] through the open [a] back to the press-up of [I], finally touching the teeth at the end. It starts like ride and rhyme (and write, right, and rite – or just almost if you do Canadian raising, which makes the diphthong start higher before a voiceless consonant) and rhymes with such nice words – blithe, kithe, tithe – but the lovely word it’s perhaps most like is the one it’s akin to: wreathe, and of course its noun wreath. It began (in Anglo-Saxon, straight from the Germanic) as a transitive, referring to twisting and turning, as in working a wreath; in Middle English it added the intransitive, which is the sense we normally use it for now. And how much less festive it has come to be. We need not blame its anagram wither anymore than its others, whiter and I threw. When, after all, do people writhe? In ecstasy, perhaps, but much more often in agony or pain. And what, other than human bodies, is writhing? A writhing, twisting mass of snakes completes the set of most common collocations for the gerund. I’ll take a wreath, thanks.
Get a premium subscriptionSupport Sesquiotica with a paid subscription and get extra premium content and goodies. Starts as low as $1 a month! Find out more and subscribe on Patreon.com
I am for hireI earn my living as an independent editor, writer, and educator. Find out more and contact me at jamesharbeck.com.
Buy the T-shirt (or coffee mug or hip flask)
Wear it proudly:
I operate on a NEED-TO-KNOW basis. I need to know EVERYTHING.
Buy it at cafepress.ca/sesquiphernalia
Buy my books
Word Tasting Notes Google groupGet just the word tasting notes daily by email – join the Google Word Tasting Notes group.