witch


witch
witch O.E. 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 O.E. wicca "sorcerer, wizard, man who practices witchcraft or magic," from verb wiccian "to practice witchcraft" (Cf. Low Ger. 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 O.E. wigle "divination," and wig, wih "idol." Watkins says the nouns represent a P.Gmc. *wikkjaz "necromancer" (one who wakes the dead), from PIE *weg-yo-, from *weg- "to be strong, be lively." 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 O.E. 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 W. 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, since the root of the word is lybb "drug, poison, charm." 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 Ger. weihan "consecrate," and writes, "the priests of a suppressed religion naturally become magicians to its successors or opponents." In Anglo-Saxon glossaries, wicca renders L. 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 L. 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 ref. 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 "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]

Etymology dictionary. 2014.

Synonyms:

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Witch — Witch, n. [OE. wicche, AS. wicce, fem., wicca, masc.; perhaps the same word as AS. w[=i]tiga, w[=i]tga, a soothsayer (cf. {Wiseacre}); cf. Fries. wikke, a witch, LG. wikken to predict, Icel. vitki a wizard, vitka to bewitch.] [1913 Webster] 1.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • witch — witch, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {witched}; p. pr. & vb. n. {witching}.] [AS. wiccian.] To bewitch; to fascinate; to enchant. [1913 Webster] [I ll] witch sweet ladies with my words and looks. Shak. [1913 Webster] Whether within us or without The spell… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • witch|y — «WIHCH ee», adjective, witch|i|er, witch|i|est. = witchlike. (Cf. ↑witchlike) …   Useful english dictionary

  • Witch — Witch, n. [Cf. {Wick} of a lamp.] A cone of paper which is placed in a vessel of lard or other fat, and used as a taper. [Prov. Eng.] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • witch — [wıtʃ] n ↑broomstick [: Old English; Origin: wicca wizard and wicce witch ] 1.) a woman who is supposed to have magic powers, especially to do bad things →↑wizard 2.) informal an insulting word for a woman who is old or unpleasant …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • witch — [wich] n. [ME wicche < OE wicce, fem. of wicca, sorcerer, akin to MDu wicken, to use magic < IE base * weik , to separate (hence set aside for religious worship) > Goth weihs, holy, OE wig, idol] 1. a person, esp. a woman, having… …   English World dictionary

  • witch — [ wıtʃ ] noun count * 1. ) a woman in stories who has magic powers. A man with magic powers is usually called a wizard. a ) a real woman who claims she has magic powers 2. ) an insulting word for an unpleasant woman …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • witch — [n] person who casts spells over others conjurer, enchanter, magician, necromancer, occultist, sorcerer; concepts 361,412,415 …   New thesaurus

  • witch — ► NOUN 1) a woman thought to have evil magic powers. 2) a follower or practitioner of modern witchcraft. 3) informal an ugly or unpleasant old woman. ► VERB archaic 1) practise witchcraft. 2) cast an evil spell on …   English terms dictionary

  • witch|er|y — «WIHCH uhr ee, WIHCH ree», noun, plural er|ies. 1. witchcraft; magic. 2. Figurative. charm; fascination …   Useful english dictionary


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.