Never trust a warlock

When I was writing about wizard earlier this month, I made my way to the dictionaries' entries on warlock, which is a male witch or sorcerer. I found the etymology interesting. The AHD says warlock is from the Middle English warloghe, from the Old English wǣrloga, meaning oath-breaker, from wǣr, meaning pledge + -loga, meaning liar (from lēogan, meaning to lie). The AHD also says the word warlock can refer to a demon.

The idea of a warlock originally being a traitor (and later a demon) was interesting, but I needed to go to the  OED to get  a deeper history. The OED gives three early, obsolete definitions for warlock:

  • 1a. An oath-breaker, traitor.
  • 1b. A wicked person; a scoundrel, reprobate; a general term of reproach or abuse.
  • 1c. A damned soul in hell.
  • 2a. The Devil; Satan.
  • 2b. A devil, demon, spirit of hell.
  • 3. A savage or monstrous creature (hostile to men). The word is applied to giants, cannibals, mythic beasts, etc.

The OED says oath-breaker is the original sense of warlock, dating to the 11th century and farther back to undated usages in Old English. But the "application to the Devil (either as a rebel, or a deceiver)" was also already in Old English, with undated references. The sense of a monstrous creature also dates into the obscurity of Old English.

The OED's fourth definition is the modern sense, with a first usage dating to circa 1400:

  • One in league with the Devil and so possessing occult and evil powers; a sorcerer, wizard (sometimes partly imagined as inhuman or demonic, and so approaching sense 2 or 3); the male counterpart of witch.

In the etymology, the OED says, "The applications to sorcerers, with especial reference to the power of assuming inhuman shapes, and to monsters (especially serpents), appear to be developments, partly due to Scriptural language, of the sense 'devil.' "