The history of the word worrying is itself revealing. Deriving from the Old English wyrgan, meaning ‘to kill by strangulation’, it was originally a hunting term, describing what dogs did to their prey as they caught it. The Oxford English Dictionary has, among several meanings from the fourteenth to the early nineteenth century: ‘To swallow greedily or to devour … to choke a person or animal with a mouthful of food … to seize by the throat with the teeth and tear or lacerate; to kill or injure by biting or shaking. Said, e.g. of dogs or wolves attacking sheep, or of hounds when they seize their prey.’ Johnson’s Dictionary of 1755 has for worry: ‘To tear or mangle as a beast tears its prey. To harass or persecute brutally.’ A worrier for Johnson is someone who persecutes others, ‘one who worries or torments them’. Two things are immediately striking in all of this. First there is the original violence of the term, the way it signifies the vicious but successful outcome of pursuing an object of desire. This sense of brutal foreplay is picked up in Dryden’s wonderful lines in All for Love: ‘And then he grew familiar with her hand / Squeezed it, and worry’d it with ravenous kisses.’ Worrying, then, is devouring, a peculiarly intense, ravenous form of eating. The second striking thing is that worrying, until the nineteenth century, is something one does to somebody or something else. In other words, at a certain point in history worrying became something that people could do to themselves.
– Adam Phillips, ‘The Discovery of Worrying’ in On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored, Faber and Faber, 1993
I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of spring which most deeply appeal to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from the poets.
George Orwell, ‘Toads’ in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 4, Penguin Books, 1970
Other People’s Stories
Where was I, when you were shovelling chickens
down conveyor belts in Castlemahon? Three days
was quite enough of chicken, the hours pieced out in
legs and wings – the garish, blank routine of reducing
a creature again and again to its constituent parts …
but you would escape intact, sick of chicken jokes
from colleagues who somehow never tired of them
and most of all sick of the chicken stink that graced
that unholy town where god knows, they could be
burning bones for ever. I didn’t know you then.
If I was somewhere, I was nowhere of note, in this
city that might stomach anything; already rooted fast
where I’d come up, the callus on my middle finger
toughening, where I pressed too hard with the pen.
Emily Berry, Dear Boy, Faber and Faber, 2013