Printable Version
Pronunciation: æng-gwish Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: Severe mental distress, mental pain and suffering.

Notes: Anguish has few relatives. It may be used itself as an intransitive verb, as to anguish over whether the party will go well. The adjective is formed with the suffix -ed, anguished "suffering anguish". I think it safe to assume that anguishful and, especially, anguishous have not survived the scourge of time, a fate they both richly deserve.

In Play: We live, of course, in a world filled with anguish: "Scoring the winning goal for the opposition caused Cecil considerable anguish at the time, but he was back at the office Monday morning as though nothing had happened." If the world doesn't provide us enough anguish, we can create more ourselves: "Anguish over the thought of her hangnail returning caused Millicent to make 17 typos at work that day, a new record for her."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us, via Old French anguisse, from Latin angustia "distress", the noun from the adjective angustus "narrow, tight". So, Latin angere "to strangle" underlies our anxiety. The Latin word is a hand-me-down from PIE *angh- "tight, painfully constricted, painful", which also propagated German Angst and English angry. That pain in the finger, the hangnail, started out as Old English ang-ngl "painful spike, corn", and picked up an epenthetic [h] by folk etymology on its way here. Nagel remained in German meaning "nail" while in English it became, of course, nail. (Riutaro F. Aida never causes any anguish when he suggests fascinating terms like this one for our series.)

Dr. Goodword,

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