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were·wolf also wer·wolf (wârwlf, wîr-, wûr-)
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n.
A person believed to have been transformed into a wolf or to be capable of assuming the form of a wolf.

[Middle English, from Old English werewulf : wer, man; see wī-ro- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots + wulf, wolf; see WOLF.]

Word History: The meaning wolf in werewolf is current English; the were is not. Werewulf, "werewolf," occurs only once in Old English, about the year 1000, in the laws of King Canute: "lest the madly ravenous werewolf too savagely tear or devour too much from a godly flock." The wer- or were- in wer(e)wulf means "man"; it is related to Latin vir with the same meaning, the source of virile and virility. Both the Germanic and the Latin words derive from Indo-European *wīro-, "man." Wer- also appears, though much disguised, in the word world. World is first recorded (written wiaralde) in Old English in a charter dated 832; the form worold occurs in Beowulf. The Old English forms come from Germanic *wer-ald-, "were-eld" or "man-age." The transfer of meaning from the age of humans to the place where they live has a parallel in the Latin word saeculum, "age, generation, lifetime," later "world."

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

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