The word wretch used to be kind of a catch-all insult, and was used surprisingly frequently (about seven times more than today, at its height in 1795). It's been around for as long as English has, and throughout the years has been attested as wrecche, wrechhe, wrecch, wrech, wroche, wrich, wryche, wratche, and more. The word was borrowed from the Proto-Germanic root wrakjon, which meant "one who is pursued". In this context, it refers to exiles and ruffians who are driven out of communities, but in other languages, that developed differently. For example, in German, wrakjon became the word Recke, meaning "hero", since heroes are pursued by the forces of evil - that's a pretty fascinating contrast! Finally, wrakjon derives from Proto-Indo-European wreg, meaning "track" or "follow".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.