English boasts some wonderful words having to do with complaints.
The word whine has been with us since English became English. In Old English it had two uses: to refer to arrows as they hissed or whistled through the air, & to refer to a dog’s whines (an imitative word). In 1520 whine added the meaning to complain in a feeble or annoying fashion.
The same Old English roots gave us the word whinge, to complain peevishly. A British dialectical term born in the 1500s, whinge has made its way across the Pond. I hope others appreciate its trans-Atlantic voyage as much as I do.
Beginning in 1888 in England a complaint could be referred to as a beef. Etymologists suggest this probably came from British soldiers’ complaints regarding the mystery meat their superiors were claiming was beef.
The term belly-ache, meaning stomach pain, appeared in the 1590s. It picked up the figurative meaning to complain in 1888. Interestingly, the first recorded uses of belly-ache in America reflected the figurative meaning of the term.
In 1825 an English word meaning to gnaw came into use. Within only three years it picked up the meaning to complain. This word is nag, which appears to have come from a Scandinavian source. It seems to have no etymological relationship to the word nag meaning old horse, which came from Dutch.
The English verb kvetch, to complain, made its way to us in 1953 (the noun, meaning a chronic complainer arrived before that in 1936). The original literal Yiddish verb’s meaning was to squeeze or press.
I’m hoping you’ve got something to say about all these kvetch-worthy words. If so, please leave a note in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster & the OED
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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