wangle » wrangle

Chiefly in:   wrangle an invitation

Classification: English – questionable

Spotted in the wild:

  • “… jobshop will invite your team to tour their facility (or if you’re a good salesperson maybe you can call some plating shops and wrangle an invitation); …” (link)
  • “You love to cook and we love to eat, so please accept this gift as our shameless attempt to wrangle an invitation to dinner. Happy Birthday, Mom!” (link)
  • “He had made several frantic efforts to wrangle an invitation to the White House.” (link)

Several people — most recently, Ann Burlingham — have suggested “wrangle an invitation” to me as an eggcorn for “wangle an invitation”. The idea is that “wangle” is not a very common word, in fact a much less common word than “wrangle” (which gets considerable press in cowboy-related contexts, including Wrangler jeans). Entirely plausible (and consonant with my own impressions), though the history turns out to be much more complex than that.

The MWDEU entry for wangle, wrangle distinguishes “wangle” ‘to accomplish something in a scheming or indirect way’ from “wrangle” ‘to argue or engage in controversy’ (thus missing the important sense ‘to herd (horses or other livestock)’, with the extended sense ‘to bring into order’). But, MWDEU points out, both verbs developed the sense ‘to obtain’, apparently independently; neither development is surprising (’obtain by scheming or indirection’, ‘obtain by arguing or bargaining’). As it turns out, “wrangle” went there first (early 17th century, according to the OED), while the American verb “wangle” didn’t get there until much later (early 20th century, according to the OED). That makes “wangle an invitation” look like the innovation, rather than the reverse.

But, but… The OED in 1928 labeled the ‘obtain’ sense of “wrangle” as obsolete, so that the current use of the verb in this sense would appear to be a reintroduction, with “wrangle” encroaching on what was by then the territory of “wangle”. Vindication for Ann Burlingham and my other correspondents!

In line with that, MWDEU (1989) thought that the ‘obtain’ sense of “wangle” was much more common than that of “wrangle”. Recent Google searches don’t bear that out: on 20 August 2005, ca. 1,010 raw webhits for “wrangle an invitation”, vs. ca. 760 for “wangle an invitation”. Ok, it’s close, but there certainly is no heavy advantage for “wangle”.

To sum up: the historical sequence seems to be (1) “wrangle” ‘obtain’ only; (2) “wrangle” and “wangle” in competition in this sense, with decreasing “wrangle”; (3) “wangle” ‘obtain’ only (or mostly); (4) “wrangle” and “wangle” in competition in this sense, with “wrangle” overtaking “wangle”.

I have to confess that “wrangle an invitation” sounds to me either like a mistake or like a vivid metaphor (I visualize the potential invitee wrestling the inviter to the ground, possibly with ropes, so as to extract the invitation). But then I’m a geezer, so what do I know? Change happens.

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/08/21 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Trixie , 2005/08/28 at 3:20 pm

    Despite earning multiple graduate degrees (one of them in English, no less), I’ve never ever heard the word “wangle,” much less “wangle an invitation.” Maybe it’s because I’m from Texas, where we frequently “wrangle” things, in the sense of “getting hold of / obtaining through some difficulty.” In fact, “wangle” sounds vaguely dirty to my ear…

  2. 2

    Commentary by Scott , 2006/02/28 at 2:27 am

    This was really interesting. I’ve always used “wangle an invitation” and I was wondering if I was making a mistake, because I’ve seen others “wrangle an invitation”. Thanks!

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