E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
in Cambridge phrase, is one who has obtained a place in the highest mathematical tripos. The first man of this class is termed the senior wrangler, the rest are arranged according to respective merit, and are called second, third, fourth, etc., wrangler, as it may be. In the Middle Ages, when letters were first elevated to respectability in modern Europe, college exercises were called disputations, and those who performed them disputants, because the main part consisted in pitting two men together, one to argue pro and the other con. In the law and theological schools this is still done for the bachelors and doctors degrees. The exercise of an opponent is called an opponency. Wrangling is a word-battle carried on by twisting words and trying to obfuscate an opponenta most excellent term for the disputations of schoolmen. The opponency begins with an essay on the subject of dispute.