from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. An apparition of a living person that appears as a portent just before that person's death.
  • n. The ghost of a dead person.
  • n. Something shadowy and insubstantial.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A ghost or specter, especially seen just after a person's death.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. An apparition of a person in his exact likeness, seen before death, or a little after; hence, an apparition; a specter; a vision; an unreal image.
  • n. Sometimes, improperly, a spirit thought to preside over the waters; -- called also water wraith.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. An apparition in the exact likeness of a person, supposed to be seen before or soon after the person's death; in general, a visible spirit; a specter; a ghost.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a mental representation of some haunting experience


Origin unknown.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
The first attestation dates to 1513, in the Mid. Scottish translation alone of Aeneid: "Nor ᵹit na vayn wrathys nor gaiftis quent Thi char conftrenyt bakwart forto went," "Syklyke as that, thai fay, in diuers placis The wraithis walkis of goiftis that ar ded," "Thydder went this wrath or fchaddo of Ene, That femyt, all abafyt, faft to fle,". (Wiktionary)



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  • Vexamples has given up: She looked like a small white wraith--do you know what a wraith is?

    It's interesting to see an etymology from the Century Dictionary; even the mighty O.E.D. just calls the word's origin 'obscure'.

    December 10, 2009

  • “Where the masculine ideal of as recently as 2000 was a buff 6-footer with six-pack abs, the man of the moment is an urchin, a wraith or an underfed runt.�? — Vanishing Point, NYT

    February 8, 2008