Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Worry Can Kill You

Rick from Interlochen called in an ordinary word that has undergone extraordinary changes in meaning over the centuries. The word is worry, and it comes to us from the Indo-European, where it originally meant to strangle, throttle, or kill. Thanks to the OED, here’s a summary of its progression.

• To kill (a person or animal) by compressing the throat; to strangle. [725]
• To choke with a mouthful of food [1300]
• To devour greedily. [1520]
• To suffocate a person with smoke. [1755]
• To seize by the throat with the teeth and tear or lacerate; to kill or injure by biting and shaking. [1380]
• To bite at or upon an object. [1567]
• To kiss or hug vehemently. [1611]
• To utter (one's words) with the teeth nearly closed, as if biting or champing them. [1905]
• To pull or tear at (an object) with the teeth. [1882]
• To swallow greedily. [1300]
• To harass by rough or severe treatment, by repeated aggression or attack; to assail with hostile or menacing speech. [1553]
• To irritate (an animal) by a repetition of feigned attacks, etc. [1807]
• To afflict with physical fatigue or distress. [1828]
• To vex, distress, or persecute by inconsiderate or importunate behaviour; to plague or pester with reiterated demands, requests, or the like. [1671]
• To cause distress of mind to; to afflict with mental trouble or agitation; to make anxious and ill at ease. [1822]
• To give way to anxiety or mental disquietude. [1860]
• To advance or progress by a harassing or dogged effort; to force or work one's way through. [1699]
• To get through (a business, piece of work) by persistent effort or struggle [1871]

In combination, a person who worried excessively was called worry guts or worry wart.

SIDEBAR: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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