Daily Archives: October 23, 2015

Old word, new meaning

Anguish: 1. noun severe mental or physical suffering. 2. verb be very distressed about something.

Etymology: c. 1200, “acute bodily or mental suffering,” from Old French anguisse, angoisse “choking sensation, distress, anxiety, rage,” from Latin angustia (plural angustiae) “tightness, straitness, narrowness;” figuratively “distress, difficulty,” from ang(u)ere “to throttle, torment” (see anger (v.)).

3. Terri’s definition; finite but intense bouts of emotional pain so severe as to cause physical pain.

I know words. I love words, and really dig learning the history of them. I started thinking of my own definition of anguish just the other day, when searching for the word to go along with what was going on inside me. Damn, it hits me out of nowhere. And man-oh-man does it hurt. Physical, overwhelming pain. Then I pull it together and it eases.

I was surprised and yet not surprised to discover the etymology of anguish, only moments ago. Choking sensation. Torment. Related to anger. Upon reflection, I realized that anguish isn’t a prolonged sensation. Acute, yes. Recurring, ditto. But finite. Agony*, on the other hand, can go on and on. Maybe agony is what happens when anguish gets out of its box and won’t go back in.

Realizing that will keep me pulling it together whenever that sensation hits. The more you know, right?


*late 14c., “mental suffering” (especially that of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane), from Old French agonie, agoine “anguish, terror, death agony” (14c.), and directly from Late Latin agonia, from Greek agonia“a (mental) struggle for victory,” originally “a struggle for victory in the games,” from agon “assembly for a contest,” from agein “to lead” (see act (n.)). Sense of “extreme bodily suffering” first recorded c. 1600.


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