Words at Play

10 Words for the Angry and Upset

For those who just won't take it anymore
Last Updated: 13 Apr 2022


Definition - to become very angry

The Latin word ballista, which referred to a missile-throwing siege engine of yore, is the root of our ballistic. The earliest meaning of the word in English, “of or relating to the science of the motion of projectiles in flight,” is closely tied to its Latin origin. Ballistic was taken on additional meanings over the years, including “being or characterized by repeated bouncing” (referring to exercise), “capable of resisting or stopping bullets or other projectiles” (referring to a material), and “extremely and usually suddenly excited, upset, or angry” (usually referring to people).

Go ballistic is a fairly recent idiom, dating from the 1980s, and may also be used to mean “to become very excited.”

He-Man has a magic sword. When he holds it to the sky, gets struck by lightning a few times and thunders, “ have the power!,” it really brings the house down. The kids go ballistic, and the phrase echoes down the halls of even the most staid elementary schools.
Washington Times (Washington, DC), 24 Oct. 1984


Definition - highly excited, upset

Every now and then one is moved by passionate anger to such an extent that altisonant language won’t fit the bill, and what one really needs is a nice, trenchant way of conveying one’s ire. For such occasions our language has words such as het up. The het portion is a dialectal past tense of heat. 

In order that there may be no misunderstanding about the matter, the statement is made now that the primary is a long way off and the Gazette is of the opinion that the exigencies of the occasion do not require anyone to get all “het up” about the matter.
The Beloit Gazette (Beloit, KS), 30 Dec. 1914


Definition - very angry; wild-eyed

There are a couple of things you should know about orey-eyed in addition to it being a fine synonym for angry. One it that the orey portion of the word is of obscure origin. The other is that orey-eyed was once upon a time commonly used synonymously with drunk, and so you should exercise care in its application.

He was an orey-eyed old devil, mustard-colored, with wide-spread horns corkscrewing out to fine points.
The Tampa Tribune (Tampa, FL), 12 Apr. 1953

Until the lady wobbles in her shoes
And does some steps extremely on the queer—
Perhaps she’s orey-eyed from modern beer,
Instead of Jove’s refined Olympian booze,
And bidding let-‘er rip and turn-‘er loose
Has gone clean loco in her running gear.
The San Francisco Call, 5 Jan. 1902


Definition - (Australian) in a bad temper

Getting angry is hardly a condition restricted to any one country, and so it makes sense that there are variants in many varieties of English. Ropable is most often found in Australia and New Zealand, and refers to the state of being angry enough as to require being restrained with a rope.

The station manager felt himself worked up to “ropeable” condition. He could not stand this tomfoolery sort of inspection any longer.
— A. R. E. Burton, Mildura, the True Australia Felix, 1892


Definition - angry, irritated

The English language appears to have a deep and odd connection between idioms and shirts. We say keep your shirt on as an informal way of telling someone to be more patient or calm, and lose one’s shirt to mean “to lose a lot of money because of a bad bet or investment.” Giving someone the shirt off one’s back refers to being willing to do anything to help someone.

Our linguistic fascination with shirts is not restricted to idioms, however. A stuffed shirt is “a smug, conceited, and usually pompous person often with an inflexibly conservative or reactionary attitude.” And added to our list of shirt words we have shirty. This word is chiefly British in use, and has been referring to irritated Brits since the middle of the 19th century.

He says that you and I made a fool of him, and he could hardly speak, he was so shirty.
— P. G. Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923


Definition - resentful, angry

The above definition of stomachful is considered archaic, and so you are unlikely to find it in much use today. There are additional meanings of this word (including “obstinate” and “stubborn”), which likewise are archaic. None of these adjectival uses should be confused with the noun (“a quantity sufficient to fill the stomach”), which is neither archaic nor obsolete.

And could you but any way, be Instrumental to Break them of the Damning Wickedness, you would Oblige them Eternally. Tho now they may be Stomachful at you, they would have cause for ever to Thank and Bless you.
— Anon., A Letter to a gentleman in the commission of the peace exciting him to the performance of his part in executing the late act against profane cursing and swearing, 1695 


Definition - inclined to take offense easily, belligerent

The earliest sense of umbrageous has little to do with anger, unless one is provoked thusly by an absence of direct sunlight; initially the word meant “affording shade.” Umbrageous (and its better known cousin umbrage come from the Latin umbrare, meaning “shade, shadow.”

There are other Princes who more umbragious and jealous of their Estate, and Greatnesse, conferre the whole authoritie of their affaires to one or two, authorizing them in all the functions of their Offices, and yet without giving them any great accesse or familiaritie.
—Eustache de Refuge, A treatise of the court (trans. by John Reynolds), 1622


Definition - filled with wrath

To be honest, wrathy is defined in our dictionary as wrathful, a word which supplies the definition above. And you certainly can use wrathful to describe the reaction your family had regarding that thing you did at that holiday gathering that one time … but you can also use wrathy, which, perhaps due to its ending with a Y, affords a slightly more comic feel.

Why, says the Dancing-master, something in a wrathy Commotion, what do you mean by all this Farce?
— Myles Davies, Athenæ britannicæ, 1719


Definition - in a state of lively or angry excitement

Afroth need not designate anger only; one might be afroth with excitement in a variety of emotional veins. The word is formed by the addition of the prefix a- (in this instance meaning “in (such) a state or condition)”) to the word froth (“to vent or voice”).

He has been batting against John Doeg and Berkeley Bell and is all afroth at the prospect of tumbling Old Pal.
Daily News, (New York, NY), 8 May 1931


Definition - extremely exasperated or angry

Hot under the collar is yet another entry in our language’s grand assortment of idioms-relating-to-emotions-which-also-have-something-to-do-with-shirts. It is an idiom of long-established use, showing well over 150 years of continual use. Our earliest citation comes in 1858, in a newspaper article titled Sut Lovengood’s Version of Old Bull ride, written in mock-dialect.

Ole Sock an his rider cum in site a tarin, an they smelt each other. Both wer ded dame an monsrous hot under the coller; so a big, hearth shakin fite were morally durned sertin, barin a lick ove litenen ur a rifle shot inter wun ove thar curls.
Oregon Weekly Times (Portland, OR), 17 Jul. 1858

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