• throe •
Pronunciation: throw • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A spasm of pain, whether physical or psychological.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a lexical orphan with no other form but a plural, throes, which is used far more frequently than the singular. In the plural the word is widely used metaphorically, as to be in the throes of finishing a book for the publishers, implying that the process is a painfully difficult one.
In Play: A throe may be physical: "I'm sorry I lost my temper with you, Jerry, but I didn't think it good timing for you to ask me about the insurance card when I was in the throes of childbirth." A throe may be psychological: "Harold has taken the leap from the throes of an unhappy marriage to the even sharper throes of a messy divorce."
Word History: Today's word in Middle English was throwe, a dialectal variant of thrawe from Old English threah "pain, affliction". This word comes from Old English thráwan "to turn, twist", which is why throe does not mean simply pain but a twist or spasm of pain. The sense of "twist" is still used today in the phrase "to throw a pot", meaning to shape a pot from a lump of clay spinning (twisting) it on a rotating wheel. In fact, sometimes pieces of clay break away from a pot in progress and are hurled away from the spinning wheel. This sort of occurrence could have led to the shift in meaning of throw from "to twist" to its current meaning, "hurl". (We are grateful today to Dr. Lyn Laboriel for a word that no doubt comes from the throes of her job.)