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“Wrong,” “wrist,” and “wrench” look alike: it’s a resemblance that turns out to be a family one. These words are cousins, descended from a common and ancient root.
What binds them together is the notion of twisting. “Wrong” comes to English on a Scandinavian route from a Proto-Germanic (the conjectured ancestor tongue of the family that includes German, Dutch, Danish, English, and others) root, *wrang- and long before that from Proto-Indo-European *wrengh- (to turn).
What’s wrong, then, is twisted. Its opposite, “right,” comes from Latin rectus (straight). Colloquiallisms confirm the pair: a criminally dishonest person is “crooked,” a “crook,” while a “straight arrow” is honest and truthful speech is “straight up.”
A moral distinction, expressed aesthetically and geometrically.
Some descendants of wr-: “wrist” a body part that twists, “wrench” a tool for twisting, “wrinkle” twisted skin, “wry” mouth twisted in a half-smile; “wring” to squeeze by twisting; “writhe” to twist and turn in pain.
Spanish and its Romance relatives tend to express this sense through Latin roots for turning and twisting. Spanish tuerto means “one-eyed,” French tort gave us the word for a civil wrong, The spinning lathe is Spanish torno. The root in distorsión is easily spotted—Latin tortus has influenced English too. “Torque” is an engine’s rotating force.
The ghastliest descendant of this family names the unspeakable act of inflicting physical or mental pain on someone who is completely under one’s power: the sadly not-extinct “torture.”
Copyright ©2014 by Pablo J. Davis. All rights reserved.
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