Word of the Day: worry

Word of the Day: worry.


Imagine somebody in the grip of worry. She wrings her hands. She wrinkles her brows. She is all wrapped up in a bad situation. Something’s wrong, she knows it.
The English wr– words almost all have to do with twisting. That is the case too with words that we don’t immediately associate with twisting, like worry and wrath. But the old physical meaning of worry reveals the underlying idea. In C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, the good bear Mr. Bultitude, at large with other wild carnivores in a combination of think tank and torture chamber, pokes about the bleeding corpses of evil men and women, with all kinds of bones and muscles to tug at and worry. He pulls, twists, messes with, yanks. The German cognate verb wuergeln adds a macabre touch to our scene (as if we needed it): to strangle.

So the next time you are worried, and someone says, “Get a grip on yourself,” tell him that that is just the problem! You have to loosen the darned grip.

How many of these words do we have? Quite a few. You turn your wrist. You writhe with pain. You tangle arms and legs with your opponent in the wrestling match. You tussle with the huckster, wrangling a good price for the Velvis – the Velvet Elvis. You wrap the Velvis round and round with tissue paper to give it as a Christmas present to Cousin Luella. What is that iron railing with the curious curls and twists? It is wrought iron. Even the little bird with the turned-up tail may get his name from the same bucket: the wren. Others: wreck, wriggle, wrench, wrong, wry, wrest, write (think of the squiggles), wrack. Changing the position of the consonant and the vowel: warp, wire. We used to pronounce both consonants, back in Anglo Saxon days and even for a while after the wretched Normans invaded and wruined our English pronunciation. Try to do it: wround your lips and say, “Wrobbie, I’ll wring your wrotten neck, you wrat!” Well, wring is the only true wr word in there, but you get the idea.

And what is that thing around which you wrap a wall for ramparts: it is possibly, we aren’t sure, a *wurbs = urbs, city.  

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