What's the meaning of brutal in this comment?

I just had some mild food poisoning on Tuesday into Wednesday, sh-t was brutal but it was pretty much cleared up after I slept.

According to most dictionaries, the word brutal has three senses. The following are definitions of brutal from Google definitions:

adjective /ˈbro͞otl/

  1. Savagely violent - a brutal murder

  2. Punishingly hard or uncomfortable - the brutal winter wind

  3. Without any attempt to disguise unpleasantness - the brutal honesty of his observations

Although definition #2 seems relevant, but based on the dictionaries I've looked up, its usage appears specifically applies to the weather. So how do you define brutal in this context?

  • 2 is about as close as a dictionary can get you. It's not confined to the weather; you can label anything from a domestic drama to an audio recording to an election defeat as brutal. Feb 16, 2013 at 16:40
  • ...and I've noticed that here in the US, "brutal" is a very popular word right now to be used like definition #2, for example, "That test was brutal!", "This week's been brutal at work!" Feb 16, 2013 at 17:28
  • @StoneyB, Kristina Lopez, actually I'm still trying to grasp what the person is exactly feeling or what the word exactly means in this context. I understand it has a meaning of discomfort, but punishingly hard or uncomfortable, punishing I looked up in several dictionaries it means: in a manner that requires a lot of physical effort and makes you very tired or weak. And hard, if I'm correct, the relevant definition I found is: needing or using a lot of physical strength or mental effort. So does the word basically contains the meaning that this experience makes him very tired and weak...
    – Theo
    Feb 16, 2013 at 18:38
  • @StoneyB, Kristina Lopez, ...due to the physical effort consumed by the symptoms he had endured from the food poisoning and which makes it very uncomfortable as well.
    – Theo
    Feb 16, 2013 at 18:40
  • 1
    @Theo In pursuing the chain of words through dictionaries I think you are trying to pin the meaning down too narrowly. Food poisoning caused him great physical distress of various sorts. Arduous physical labour causes physical distress of different sorts, and a difficult exam causes mental and emotional distress. The word brutal may be used of all these. It is employed to emphasize the experiential severity of the distress rather than the mere fact that one was distressed. Feb 16, 2013 at 18:47

2 Answers 2


From the American Heritage Dictionary, under brute, I fount a few synonyms that may be helpful: "entirely physical: brute force; savage, cruel: brute coercion; and unremittingly severe: was driven to steal food through brute necessity."

While something brutal may be entirely physical, as in the case of our food poisoning victim, it can also, by analogy, be mental. The feeling engendered by, say, the bar exam, might leave you feeling spent, as if you had been through a purely physical test; hence, "Now that was a brutal exam!"

Savage describes the symptoms of food poisoning. It has no mercy. Retching and the dry heaves are truly savage in their paroxysms or attacks on our bodies.

Unremittingly severe describes the symptoms of food poisoning as well. There is a witty saying to the effect that "At first I was afraid I would die; then I was afraid I would not die!"


I just had some mild food poisoning on Tuesday into Wednesday, sh-t was brutal but it was pretty much cleared up after I slept.

The bolded part of your example is the key, I believe, to the 2nd definition of "brutal". My interpretation is that your friend was saying that the food poisoning-induced diarrhea was very uncomfortable and hard to endure. . . thus, "brutal"

  • 2
    I think when he said sh-t, he is not referring to the actual feces/diarrhea, but the whole experience he had endured from this food poisoning and the symptoms he went through.
    – Theo
    Feb 16, 2013 at 18:49
  • 1
    @Theo, I think you're right; but diarrhea is a usual symptom of food poisoning and the writer may have been deliberately playing on the two senses. Feb 16, 2013 at 18:52

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