Thursday, March 3, 2016

Language of Confusion: Feeling Mad

Today we’re looking at the origins for words of angry feelings because why not?

Anger showed up in the early thirteenth century as a verb and then as a noun in the mid thirteenth century, but back then it meant more to annoy or to be in anguish rather than how we use anger, which didn’t start until a century later. The noun is from the Old Norse angr (cool word, right?) and the verb angra, both of which are closer to the annoy/distress definition anger used to have. Both Norse words come from the Proto Germanic angus, which comes from the ProtoIndo European angh-, painfully constricted. Interesting how it didn’t change definitions until so much later. At least this one kind of makes sense.

Now, mad has two meanings, one meaning insane and one meaning angry. The insane one showed up first, in the late thirteenth century, and then in the early fourteenth century it started to mean “beside oneself with excitement” and then “beside oneself with anger”. Apparently replaced an Old English word for mad, wod, which was also spelled wood. And before you ask, no it’s not related to trees in any way. Going back to mad, it comes from the Old English gemaedde, out of one’s mind or foolish/stupid. That word comes from the Proto Germanic ga-maid-jan and ga-mai-az, abnormal. The ga- part is an intensive prefix, while the rest comes from the Proto Indo European moito, the past participle of mei­-, to change. So change became abnormal became insane became angry. Sure. Why not.

Fury showed up in the late fourteenth century, coming from the Old French furie/fuire, rage or fenzy, and classical Latin furia, fury. Yes, it’s related to the mythological furies, but no, there’s no real explanation as to why. The word is erinyes in Greek, where it comes from. Not an f in sight! Anyway, furia has a verb form in furere, which can mean rage or even heat. But don’t go thinking that word is related to fire or anything. No, fire comes from a word that starts with p.

Rage of course also has some weirdness to it. It actually showed up in the mid thirteenth century meaning play or romp, which is especially weird because pretty much everywhere else it has its standard definition. It comes from the Old French rage/raige and before that the Medieval Latin rabia and classical Latin rabies, which explains where that word came from. Although not why it has a g in it.

And now, to finish things off, wrath. It comes from the Old English wraeððu (not just one eth, but two!), anger, and wrað, angry. That word can also be traced to the Proto Germanic wraith-, and before you ask, no, that isn’t where wraith comes from. Don’t go expecting etymology to start making sense. The Proto Germanic wraith- actually comes from the Proto Indo European wreit, to turn. The origin word for wreath.

TL;DR: Seriously words. What the f**k?

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
Mental Floss


  1. This is such a powerful emotion and it's interesting seeing the background info behind these words.

  2. Wood About You just doesn't have a good ring to it...

  3. Interesting that none of them started out meaning what we know as angry. I wonder why that is.

    But seriously, angr or angra is going to end up a character name at some point...

  4. Really interesting. Odd how we consume words with other meanings and twist them to mean something else.

  5. Such great words! I don't use "wrath" nearly enough.


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