The word wretch has been around for as long as English has. Throughout the years, it's been spelled wrecca, wrecche, wrehche, wrechche, wrecch, wretche, wryche, wrache, wriche, and in a bunch of other ways. Today, it primarily means "despicable person", but in Old English it had more of a connotation of "outcast". The word comes from Proto-Germanic wrakjon, which could be defined as "fugitive", "warrior", or "exile". Beyond that, it traces to the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction wreg, "to follow". Interestingly, wrakjon developed very differently in German: through Old High German reccho, it became the word recke, meaning "hero". English just kept the more negative connotations of the root, while German held on to the positive ones. Wretch has been decreasing in literary usage since the eighteenth century.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a sophomore studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.