Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Anxiously Eager

Keith from East Jordan called in one of his pet peeves: anxious and eager being used as synonyms. He pointed out that they should be more scrupulously distinguished.

Anxious comes from a Latin verb that means to be in distress, almost to the point of choking up. By its nature, it originally indicated concern, anxiety, and dread. Thus, say some commentators, you might be anxious about receiving the results of a medical exam searching for cancer, but you would not be anxious about what you will receive as a Christmas present; you would be eager to know that.

Today, eager seems to be a more positive word than anxious, in spite of the fact that it started life meaning biting, sharp, or severe. It indicates keen anticipation, impatient longing, and avid expectation.

However, there is a historical fact that needs to be taken into account. As early as 1743, anxious was already being used as a synonym for eager. Robert Blair wrote of “The gentle Heart Anxious to please.” So the blurred lines are not new. They came into existence over 250 years ago, and writers have been using the two interchangeably ever since. In the light of such continuous usage, it is difficult for me to assign rigid meanings dogmatically.

SIDEBAR: High Anxiety

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