Wrest or Wrestle?


Caroline Hawley, reporting from Libya for the BBC has a couple of times recently said that the new rulers had “wrestled” control of the country from Gaddafi.

She is not, of course, the only person to confuse the two words wrest and wrestle, to the extent that it can’t be long before the OED has to recognise that there is a phrasal verb to “wrestle from”. However, at the moment, there is no entry under wrestle which quite fits the bill here, and the meaning “To usurp, arrogate, or take by force (power, a right, etc.); to assume forcibly (a dignity or office); to seize, capture, or take (lands, dominion, etc.) from another or others” is limited to wrest(4) where we read “In very frequent use (esp. with from) since c1820″.

Wrest is not a common word in other contexts, whereas wrestle is a word that we see most days, with one use or another, but it would be a shame if wrest were to disappear completely, when it has existed since Anglo-Saxon and Viking times alongside wrestle, which originally implied ‘wresting’ on a continuous basis – wresting was a single action, wrestling a process.


  1. I guess sometimes, in the heat of the moment, lexical access goes awry. Last night the usually impeccable Fiona Bruce perpetrated:
    “hanging from a knife edge”


  2. Twice in the last 3 months I’ve heard academics (linguists) announce the beginning of something ‘with no further adieu/a Jew’.

    Understandable, since apart from in this phrase and the name of the play, I don’t think I use ‘ado’ in any other contexts myself.

  3. @Paul Carley:

    This one is in the eggcorn database

  4. The BBC has done it again in their tennis sporting column about Badosa wrestling back control!! Shocking

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