1 a: the exact likeness of a living person seen usually just before death as an apparition
b: ghost, spectre
2: an insubstantial form or semblance: shadow
3: a barely visible gaseous or vaporous column
Did You Know?
If you see your own double, you’re in trouble, at least if you believe old superstitions. The belief that a ghostly twin’s appearance portends death is one common to many cultures. In German folklore, such an apparition is called a Doppelgänger (literally, “double goer”); in Scottish lore, they are wraiths. The exact origin of the word wraith is misty, however, and etymologists can only trace it back to the early 16th century—in particular to a 1513 translation of Virgil’s Aeneid by Gavin Douglas (the Scotsman used wraith to name apparitions of both the dead and the living). In current English, wraith has taken on additional, less spooky, meanings; it now often suggests a shadowy—but not necessarily scary—lack of substance.
“Walberswick is populated in part by refugees and retirees of London’s artistic circles…. Just keep in mind that it’s regarded as one of the most haunted villages in Suffolk. George Orwell reportedly saw a wraith in the church cemetery while visiting.” — James Lileks, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 14 May 2020
“Noctilucent clouds have appeared after past launches of the Space Shuttle, and—more recently—after one of Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rockets was dispatched to space. And these clouds are becoming more common. A century ago, you may have had to wait years to spot one of these ghostly wraiths; now you are likely to see several over a single summer.” — Nigel Henbest, The Independent (UK), 3 June 2020