Let’s get ready to wrangle — er, wangle?

I am creating a grammar/usage game in a quiz show format to present at my workplace. It’s just for fun, and I am being somewhat prescriptivist in my questions. Some of you will disapprove, I am sure, of my advice (and that’s all it is — advice) on, for possible examples, enormity and comprise.

I thought about adding the tricky wrangle/wangle in the second, more difficult round, but whenever I have used that distinction in the past, I usually get this response: Nobody says wangle!

Ah, but somebody did. Here is a quote from a recent New York Times book review of City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York by Mason B. Williams:

Williams, a historian specializing in urban politics, quotes Roosevelt saying that La Guardia “comes to Washington and tells me a sad story. The tears run down my cheeks and the tears run down his cheeks and the next thing I know, he has wangled another $50 million out of me.” [I can imagine the good-humored way President Roosevelt would have said this.]

So I wonder whether it is worth teaching, via my quiz show, that wangle means to get something by persuasion or manipulation and that it can be confused with wrangle, which can mean noisily quarreling or wrestling, herding animals (or people), or getting something by argument. The master politician Fiorello La Guardia wangled money from the president with an artful maneuver, while a disgruntled diner might wrangle an adjustment in his bill by boorishly yelling, creating a scene and threatening bodily harm to the manager.

Maybe the way to think of it is: Wangle plays on sympathy or deception; wrangle plays on fear, conflict or, at least, the desire to avoid pain. Perhaps an apt illustration would be the difference between a horse whisperer and a ranch hand with a lasso and brute strength. If nothing else, that would give me a vivid graphic for the slide with that question.

I don’t think I will wade into this subtle distinction for the exercise I am working on now, but I am gratified to find wangle in the wild.

Here is Vocabulary.com’s deft explanation of wangle. Merriam-Webster.com points out that the use of wrangle to get something is older than the entry of wangle into the language. Here is Professor Paul Brians’ explanation of wangle/wrangle.