Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 18: Painful Words
Pain can involve an injury to the body, an assault on the senses, or a rebuke to the spirit. These ten words invoke various causes and effects of misery.
1. Harrowing (HARE-oh-ing)
If something really frightens or distresses you, you might describe it with this adjective. A harrow is, literally, a farm implement that breaks up clods of earth, but these days the word is commonly used for an experience that gives you the figurative feeling of having your insides ripped out as if you'd been literally "harrowed."
- "It harrows me with fear and wonder," says Hamlet when, on the dark battlement of the castle, he first sees the ghost of his father.
- "What a harrowing experience for you," said Ms. Pitt sympathetically, "to have been stuck in that subway car for forty minutes."
2. Dissonant (DIS-on-ant)
Sounds that are unharmonious are called dissonant; in a more generalized sense, varying opinions may also be so described. The noun form is dissonance.
- Twenty-first-century listeners find it strange that the dissonance in Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring caused a riot among those attending the Paris premiere in 1913.
- One of the factors that made Mr. Robinette such an effective leader was that he welcomed dissonant voices into a discussion; he did not regard differences of opinion as a threat to his ego.
3. Raucous (RAW-kus)
This word means "loud, rough, rowdy, boisterous."
- The street was filled with a raucous mixture of the cries of street vendors clashing with car horns and the motors of Vespas.
- The principal cautioned the children to maintain a respectful silence when they entered the historic building: "Our usual raucous playground atmosphere is not appropriate in the Robert E. Lee Chapel."
4. Trauma (rhymes with comma)
This word is used for a serious injury or shock, whether to body or to spirit. The adjective form is traumatic. Both noun and adjective are often used in a light, nontechnical sense.
- The trauma he suffered from the head wound forced him to remain in the hospital for several weeks.
- Being asked to work in a cubicle beside the woman who had, in private life, betrayed him was somewhat traumatic for Percival.
5. Schadenfreude (SHAD-en-froid-deh)
This noun comes from the German words for "damage" and "joy" and means "a pleasure derived from the misfortune of others."
- Reveling in a bit of schadenfreude, Oliver was happy to see his parents blame his brother for the Ming vase the boys broke while playing catch in the living room. He was tired of being the one who always got in trouble.
- Although she didn't want to admit to her schadenfreude, Abby was happy to hear that everyone but her failed the math final; she thought it would make her seem especially smart to her teacher.
6. Ostracize (OS-truh-size)
If you ostracize people, you make them pariahs (see below). This verb has the meaning of "expelling a person from a community," either literally or figuratively. Like many words and practices, this one came from ancient Greece, where a citizen could be forced to leave a city by vote of his peers. Not yet having paper, the citizens voted with shards of potteryostraka, forerunners of the modern "blackball." The noun form is ostracism.
- Although the charges of sexual harassment against Mr. Larrabee have been dropped, he continues to be ostracized by a number of people in his workplace.
- To help her psychology students understand the power of social ostracism, Ms. Ewalt had her class participate in an experiment: on a regularly scheduled basis, each member of the class spent two days being shunned by othersno communication, no sharing of a lunchroom table.
7. Pariah (puh-RYE-uh)
This noun refers to a social outcast, someone not accepted in his or her society. The word comes into English from Tamil, a language of southern India, where it refers more specifically to an "Untouchable," a member of the lowest caste.
- Mark Twain calls Huckleberry Finn the "juvenile pariah of the village."
- After Aaron told the teacher about Ann's misdoings, he was treated like a pariah by classmates who felt "ratting someone out" was the worst possible offense.