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Other Words for Grief

“other words for grief” … These words arrested my attention as I scanned search terms folks used who found my blog. Other words. I wonder how much of what I am doing on this site is searching for the words.

Then I got curious about the word “grief.” Being an academic, I decided to start with what the Oxford English Dictionary offers as a definition. The OED is a historical dictionary; that is, it gives the history of a word and all of its various meanings throughout the time it has been used, including obsolete usages. In the case of “grief,” the entry began with a few obsolete definitions that I find tremendously interesting:

(1) Hardship, suffering; a kind, or cause, of hardship or suffering. (first used in 1225 A.D.)

(2) a. Hurt, harm, mischief or injury done or caused by another; damaged inflicted or suffered; molestation, trouble, offence.

b. A wrong or injury which is the subject of formal complaint or demand for redress

(3) Gravity, grievousness (of an offence).

(4) a. Feeling of offence; displeasure, anger.

b. Phrases: to take in (on, to) grief: to take offence at: see also AGRIEF. to take grief with (a person): to be displeased with. without grief: without being offended or annoyed; without grudging.

(5) a. A bodily injury or ailment; a morbid affection of any part of the body; a sore, wound; a blemish of the skin; a disease, sickness. CHECK OUT THIS EXAMPLE FROM 1398: “Somtyme the greyffes of the skynne come of a cause that is wythin.” (How true it is that at times what ails us comes from within and is not an external cause!)

b. The seat of disease; the diseased part; the sore place.

6. Physical pain or discomfort.

And finally with definition seven, we get to the modern usage, no longer obsolete:

(7) a. Mental pain, distress, or sorrow. In mod. use in a more limited sense: Deep or violent sorrow, caused by loss or trouble; a keen or bitter feeling of regret for something lost, remorse for something done, or sorrow for mishap to oneself or others.

Of the many examples cited of this usage throughout time, the one that tugs at my heart most is the following (I’ll paraphrase into modern English after the quote.)

1413 Pilgr. Sowle (Caxton 1483) IV. xx. 66 “How may myn eyen..Restreyne them for to shewen by wepyng Myn hertes greef.” In other words, how can I restrain my eyes from weeping my heart’s grief? As anyone overcome with grief can attest, restraint is difficult if not impossible at times.

Byron said in 1817, “Grief should be the instructor of the wise.” But what a price. What a price.

3 Responses

  1. How true, “restraint is difficult if not impossible at times”. Sometimes it doesn’t matter either if it’s been two weeks or two years.elaine

  2. very interesting post. i hope you aren’t feeling the grief you describe here, or at least you have times of comfort as well.

  3. Hi, Elaine — yes, it seems like grief can resurface with surprising intensity, even years later….

    Strugglingwriter — nah, I’m okay at present, but the grief does come back with a punch sometimes

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