O.E. wif "woman," from P.Gmc. *wiban (cf. O.S., O.Fris. wif, O.N. vif, Dan., Swed. viv, M.Du., Du. wijf, O.H.G. wib, Ger. Weib), of uncertain origin. Some proposed PIE roots include *weip- "to twist, turn, wrap," perhaps with sense of "veiled person" (see vibrate
); or *ghwibh-,
a proposed root meaning "shame," also "pudenda," but the only examples of it are wife and Tocharian (a lost IE language of central Asia) kwipe, kip "female pudenda." The modern sense of "female spouse" began as a specialized sense in O.E.; the general sense of "woman" is preserved in midwife, old wives' tale, etc. M.E. sense of "mistress of a household" survives in housewife; and later restricted sense of "tradeswoman of humble rank" in fishwife. Du. wijf now means, in slang, "girl, babe," having softened somewhat from earlier sense of "bitch." Wife-swapping is attested from 1959.