10 October 2007


From the OED definition of 'agony'. 1b is rather surprising, no?

The development of the senses in Gr. was:{em}1. A struggle for victory in the games; 2. Any struggle; 3. Mental struggle, anguish, e.g. Christ's anguish in Gethsemane. But the historical appearance of the meanings in Eng. was as follows:

1. a. Anguish of mind, sore trouble or distress, a paroxysm of grief. agony column, (a) the column of a newspaper that contains special advertisements, particularly those for missing relatives or friends, and thus often gives evidence of great distress; (b) a regular newspaper or magazine feature containing readers' questions about personal difficulties, with replies from the columnist; cf. problem page s.v. PROBLEM 7(b); agony aunt(ie), a familiar name for the (female) editor of an agony column (sense b); in extended use, an adviser on personal, psychological, etc., problems.

b. Hence, Intensity or paroxysm of pleasure.
a1725 POPE Odyssey x. 492 With cries and agonies of wild delight. 1877 MRS. OLIPHANT Mak. Flor. v. 138 He struck the marble in an agony of pleasure and content, bidding it ‘Speak’!

2. spec. The mental struggle or anguish of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.

3. The convulsive throes, or pangs of death; the death struggle. (med.L. agon mortis.) Seldom now used in this sense without qualification, as agony of death, mortal agony.

4. a. Extreme bodily suffering, such as to produce writhing or throes of the body.
b. transf. and fig.
1835-40 etc. [see PILE v.2 2b]. 1863 GEO. ELIOT Let. 23 Oct. (1956) IV. 111 We shall soon be in the agonies of moving. 1924 R. CAMPBELL Flaming Terrapin ii. 25 The mountains frown, Locked in their tetanous agonies of stone. 1932 W. B. YEATS Words for Music 2 Dying into a dance, An agony of trance, An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

5. A struggle or contest. (Rarely without some shade of the preceding senses.)

Link (requires subscription)

Thanks to the most awesome PDT for the reference.