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It was the most gut-retching thing I have ever heard.

Wrenching sounds like it would make sense, but so does retching.

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I think you want "gut-wrenching"; "retching" involves something coming up from your gut and out of your mouth: also called puking or throwing up, although normally retching refers to the sound and motion of throwing up with or without any actual regurgitation.

Something that is gut-wrenching is extremely disconcerting in a visceral sort of way. You might throw up as a reaction but that is not the usual outcome, and certainly it's not a necessary condition.

The scene at a shopping mall in Tucson last weekend was gut-wrenching to all who witnessed it, and even to most of those who only heard about it in the news.

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Indeed. "Wrenching" is generally means twisting/turning/distressing. –  Noldorin Jan 12 '11 at 14:47
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Seconded. Retching is the act of vomiting without actually 'throwing anything up', also known as the dry-heaves. The 'wrenching' refers to the sudden 'sinking feeling' in the stomach during moments of distress. –  user3444 Jan 12 '11 at 14:52
    
@ElendinTheTall: Good point about retching. While it is certainly a synonym for throwing up, it is usually used in the sense of the sound and the fury of throwing up without any actual regurgitation. I'll edit to make that distinction clear. –  Robusto Jan 12 '11 at 14:58
    
Indeed. There’s also a grammatical point here: gut-wrenching means ‘wrenching [your] guts’, which makes perfect sense; gut-retching would mean ‘retching [your] guts’, but retching is not normally a transitive verb. (It can be used transitively, but this is rare in modern usage.) –  PLL Jan 12 '11 at 16:14
    
"Gut-retching" reminds me of a horrible old joke: Every night for years on end a man goes out, gets drunk, comes home, throws up in the kitchen sink, and leaves it for his wife to clean up. She grows tired of this, and so when one day the cat dies she eviscerates it and leaves the innards in the sink. That night her husband comes home as usual - but he's downstairs for a long time, and when he does come up he's pale and shaking. "What's wrong, honey?" she asks. "I puked up my guts in the sink... but by the grace of God and the help of a big wooden spoon, I got them down again." –  MT_Head Sep 19 '12 at 20:06
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Retching, vomiting, and regurgitation are all distinct. To vomit involves expelling digested material, while regurgitation is undigested material. Retching, as was pointed out, involves similar muscle movements and pressure changes without anything coming out.

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