• angst •
ænkst, ahnkst • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Anxiety, fear, dread, or remorse caused by a situation, such as international politics or approaching maturity for teenagers. 2. (Existentialist philosophy) The dread that arises from the realization that we are free to choose as we please.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a rather more lofty word for anxiety, differing from it in referring to anxiety on a larger scale. A final examination in college might cause anxiety but it would take the complexities of the passage into maturity or guilt for indirect complicity in the horrors of Nazism to cause angst. Angst is a philosophical anxiety. An adjective, angsty, has already reared its rather facetious head in phrases like: the angsty young resistors to the Vietnam War.
In Play: Today's word refers to a sense of unsettledness, dread for a large, unfocused danger or threat: "I simply don't see how any amount of tattooing is going to resolve your coming-of-age angst, son." This word may be used to refer to smaller anxieties, but the implication is that they are larger than they seem: "Many English-speaking authors are encumbered by their angst over English punctuation."
Word History: Today's Good Word was originally the German word for anxiety, but the existentialist philosophers introduced it in sense 2 above in the early 20th century. From there it migrated to armchair philosophers, then to the media and, finally, into general usage, by which time its meaning had evolved into sense 1. The original root came directly to English in anger (anxiety [ang-ziety] was borrowed from French anxiété). Hangnail started out in Old English as ang-nægl "painful nail, corn" when ang was still around. Nægl became nail but ang disappeared, so speakers replaced ang with a similar sounding word that still existed, hang, by the process called folk etymology.