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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10 responses to “Old word, new meaning

  1. I too love to discover the original meaning of words. It brings a certain resonance and clarity about true meaning. You share your own experience beautifully, and if I may, I would just add something about the difference between the two words and what they point to. It is in the allowing of pain to have its way with us through our bodies that we can feel it all and then once we feel it, it can subside. That’s anguish. Agony is never allowing oneself to really feel the pain that rushes through the body. When that body pain is suppressed, it is then transmuted to constant mental suffering due to this unmet pain.

    There is a story that I heard from a shaman about how animals process stress. He talked about how a deer in flight from its enemy acts purely by the adrenaline that gives it its power to escape. If the deer escapes and loses its enemy, it will stop and allow the stress of the danger to shake through its body for a time. In that way, the deer releases the trauma and comes back to its natural calm.

    Of course, we as humans, have the beautiful capacity to remember and carry these memories with us so it’s a slightly different process. But the body never lies and releasing the shock through the body is tremendously healing, and I so honor the way you allow it all to show up and to feel it fully. This is what I am learning about life–feel it all fully, resist none of it. I have great gratitude for the way you are sharing your journey with us. Much love and hugs to you.


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thank you do much for this, Lorraine. Beautiful and insightful. I hope that sharing this stuff helps others, but I do admit to having selfish motives. Putting it out lessens the weight of it. Much love.


  2. I love the history of words, too, especially when they’re ancient words that we still use a variation of today.

    I’m sorry the word that you’ve shown us is such a sad word ❤


  3. ♥ Like you said…words are fascinating, even the sad ones ♥


  4. I love that you make me think 😀.

    Liked by 1 person

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