English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

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

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

share|improve this question

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.

share|improve this answer
Indeed. "Wrenching" is generally means twisting/turning/distressing. – Noldorin Jan 12 '11 at 14:47
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
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. – user26271 Sep 19 '12 at 19:58

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.