What is the meaning of astrung? I’ve read it from this passage from Of Human Bondage:

She was terrified. She wanted him to reassure her; She looked at him pleadingly, not daring to ask for words of comfort but with all her nerves astrung to receive them: he had none to offer her.

In the dictionary I have there is no word such as astrung. What does this word mean?

Actually, I am afraid it’s just misprinted.

  • 3
    The a- is an intensifying prefix; it just means ‘strung’. May 14, 2014 at 0:26
  • Words created through basic derivational morphology need not be listed in the dictionary, and often are not. You need to pick it apart.
    – tchrist
    May 14, 2014 at 0:39

3 Answers 3


I checked the metadictionary at OneLook.com, but the word doesn't appear there at all. This suggests that it is either a nonce word, or (as you suggest) a misprint.

Because I found quite a few hits of 'astrung' in different online versions of Somerset Maugham's novel, which tends to discount the misprint theory, I'm guessing that Maugham added to strung the intensifying a- prefix that Janus Bahs Jacquet mentioned, in order to play on the idioms living on one's nerves and highly strung.

  • 1
    See here for more. JBJ is surely correct.
    – tchrist
    May 14, 2014 at 2:41

I don't think it's a typo. It was written in 1915, so the language would be a bit different.

Stringed instruments need tightened strings (the tightly stretched cord or wire that produces a tone when caused to vibrate) to make a sound. To string them means to fit (new) strings to them and tighten them. The same is true of tennis racquets, bows, etc.

String also means "to cause to be tense or nervous".

Finally, that sentence is followed by

"I'm afraid you're very ill indeed," he said. "What d'you think it is?"

and later,

"I know I've treated you shocking, but don't go..."

I think that this might be an attempt to imitate dialogue. Astrung sounds like that to my ear.


William Somerset Maugham used the word in his THE LAND OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN SKETCHES AND IMPRESSIONS IN ANDALUSIA published in 1905:

It is very curious to wait in the darkness, in the silence, under the myriad stars of the southern night. Your ear is astrung to hear the distant tramp; the waiting seems endless.

  • -1 How does this answer the question as to the meaning of "astrung"?
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 14, 2014 at 7:28
  • If you read the comments above you will notice that the word is not found in any dictionary, and only literature. Oddly, I found it in governmental crop report but this answers the indirect question or statement: "Actually, I am afraid it’s just misprinted."
    – Third News
    May 14, 2014 at 7:32
  • I had read the comments, but your post needs to answer the question, What's the meaning of “astrung”? You should have posted your findings as a comment, to reassure the OP it was not a misprint. You have the necessary rep to do so. Just edit your answer to include the definition and I reverse my downvote, if it bothers you.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 14, 2014 at 7:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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