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Wight is a Middle English word for a creature or a living being, especially a human being. In modern English today, it is also used in fiction for human-like creatures.


Etymology

Wight comes from Old English word wiht akin to Old High German wiht, which derives from the same root as forms of to be, such as was and were. The word is a cognate with Dutch wicht, German Wicht, Old Norse vættir and Swedish vätte. Modern German Wicht means "small person, dwarf", and also "unpleasant person"; in Low German it means "girl". It is not related to the English word witch.


Nature

Wight has been used comparatively recently to give an impression of archaism and mystery in literature, for example in the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, where wights are corpses with a part of their decayed soul. Probably inspired by Scandinavian folklore (of vættir), Tolkien also used the word to denote human-like creatures, such as elves or ghosts ("wraiths") - most notably the undead Barrow-Wights.

Some subsequent writers seem to have been unaware that the word did not actually mean ghost or wraith, and so many works of fantasy fiction, role-playing games and computer and video games use the term as the name of spectral creatures very similar to Tolkien's Barrow-wights, such as Dungeons & Dragons' wights.


Art / Fiction

Examples of the word used in classic English literature and poetry:

  • Geoffrey Chaucer (1368-1372), The Book of the Duchess, line 579:
"Worste of alle wightes."
  • Geoffrey Chaucer (1368-1372), Prologue of The Knight, line 72-73:
"In all his life, to whatsoever wight.
He was a truly perfect, gentle knight."
  • Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 1379-1380), The House of Fame, line 1830-1831:
"We ben shrewes, every wight,
And han delyt in wikkednes."
  • William Shakespeare (circa 1602), The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act I, Sc. III:
"O base Hungarian wight! wilt thou the spigot wield?"
  • John Milton (1626), On the Death of a Fair Infant Dying of a Cough, verse vi
"Oh say me true if thou wert mortal wight..."


See Also