Word origin: Worry: Full throttle

Word origin: WORRY Full throttle

Anyone who has felt the choking effects of anxiety will find a certain poetic justice in the origin of the two words most frequently used to describe the emotion.

The Old English word wyrgan, which means “to strangle”, is the origin of the word worry. The original wyrgan had morphed into the Middle English wirien by 1300, when it was defined as “to slay, kill or injure by biting and shaking the throat”.

Between 1400 and 1600, the original meaning disappeared, replaced by the figurative definition “to annoy, bother, vex”. Gradually, an additional meaning developed and worry could be defined as to feel anxiety or mental trouble as well as to cause it.

Worry and anxiety are synonyms that demonstrate the different tone attributed to Old English and Latin words. The old English worry is colloquial. It’s simple, everyday language. Meanwhile, its more high-flown Latin cousin, anxiety, has an altogether posher and more clinical feel.

“Worry often gives small things a big shadow.”
Swedish proverb

Despite its different background, anxiety has something in common with its humble synonym. It’s root is angere, meaning “to choke or squeeze”. Both words, originating from two different geographical and linguistic routes, are inspired by the vice-like hold of the emotion they describe.


Posted in Etymology