agony

noun

ag·​o·​ny ˈa-gə-nē How to pronounce agony (audio)
plural agonies
1
a
: intense pain of mind or body : anguish, torture
the agony of rejection
the agony of defeat
b
: the struggle that precedes death
2
: a violent struggle or contest
the agonies of battle
3
: a strong sudden display (as of joy or delight) : outburst
an agony of mirth

Did you know?

In Ancient Greece, a public gathering was called agon. Since the Greeks placed a high value on sports and athletic competition, there were almost always athletic events at gatherings on festival days. The struggle to win the prize in such contests came to be called agonia. This term came also to be used for any difficult physical struggle and then for the pain that went with it—physical or mental. Our English word agony, meaning “intense pain of mind or body,” thus comes from a word that meant a happy celebration.

Choose the Right Synonym for agony

distress, suffering, misery, agony mean the state of being in great trouble.

distress implies an external and usually temporary cause of great physical or mental strain and stress.

the hurricane put everyone in great distress

suffering implies conscious endurance of pain or distress.

the suffering of famine victims

misery stresses the unhappiness attending especially sickness, poverty, or loss.

the homeless live with misery every day

agony suggests pain too intense to be borne.

in agony over the death of their child

Examples of agony in a Sentence

She was in terrible agony after breaking her leg. The medicine relieves the agony of muscle cramps very quickly. It was agony to watch him suffer like that.
Recent Examples on the Web The lessons have come wrapped in triumph, agony and with so much in between. USA TODAY, 10 Feb. 2024 Moore, who never held public office before running for governor, might have learned that lesson through the Angelos agony. Dan Rodricks, Baltimore Sun, 1 Feb. 2024 The free-floating agony of Lorna’s visions coalesce around cold, hard facts, and the murder mysteries take a backseat to the larger conspiracy that links them — so much that by the time the killers are revealed in the finale, the answers register almost as afterthoughts. Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter, 16 Jan. 2024 The original tune appeared on Ween’s 2003 album, Quebec, a big, winding ballad flush with orchestral strings and end-of-relationship agony. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 10 Jan. 2024 But last year, after an appeals court overturned Tung’s conviction over improper evidence, the anxiety turned to agony as another round of court proceedings got underway, Padron said. Tim Stelloh, NBC News, 4 Jan. 2024 At its very best, the drama suspends us in the delicious agony of wanting desperately for Em and Dex to get together while understanding they should not. Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter, 6 Feb. 2024 Meanwhile, the political class has been in a monthslong agony about whether to simply ban AfD, the second-most-popular political party in the country. Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review, 31 Jan. 2024 To find out the scientific reasons behind the mental agony/ecstasy that is having a crush, SELF turned to experts for (weirdly comforting) answers. Carina Hsieh, SELF, 30 Jan. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'agony.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English agonie, borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French agonie, borrowed from Late Latin agōnia, borrowed from Greek agōnía "contest, struggle, anguish," from agṓn "gathering, assembly at games, contest for a prize" (derivative of ágein "to lead, drive") + -ia -y entry 2 — more at agent

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of agony was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near agony

Cite this Entry

“Agony.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agony. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

agony

noun
ag·​o·​ny ˈag-ə-nē How to pronounce agony (audio)
plural agonies
1
: intense pain of mind or body
2
: a strong sudden display of emotion : outburst
an agony of delight
Etymology

Middle English agonie "agony," from Latin agonia (same meaning), from Greek agōnia "struggle," from agōn "gathering, contest for a prize"

Word Origin
In ancient Greece a public gathering was called agōn. Since the Greeks placed a high value on sports and athletic competition, there were almost always athletic events at gatherings on festival days. The struggle to win the prize in such contests came to be called agōnia. This term came also to be used for any difficult physical struggle and then for the pain that went with it, physical or mental. Our English word agony, meaning "intense pain of mind or body," thus comes from a word that originally meant a happy celebration.

Medical Definition

agony

noun
ag·​o·​ny ˈag-ə-nē How to pronounce agony (audio)
plural agonies
1
: intense pain of mind or body
2
: the struggle that precedes death

More from Merriam-Webster on agony

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