It seems I can't use "angst" anymore to refer to unspecified "philosophical anxiety about the world or personal freedom." (definition by Wordnet).
In a discussion with a friend - let's call him Abe - about a mutual friend - let's call him Doug - I wanted to express this exact idea, as in "I had coffee with Doug the other day. He sure seems filled with angst. Going on about life and the right decisions and all this stuff in the news that depresses him..."
So that's what I said, and Abe questioned my use of "angst," which led us on a race (friendly, for the most part) down the semantic rabbit hole.
From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Ed.:
(n) a feeling of anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression.
(n) an acute but unspecific feeling of anxiety; usually reserved for philosophical anxiety about the world or about personal freedom.
From Merriam-Webster online:
(n) a strong feeling of being worried or nervous : a feeling of anxiety about your life or situation.
From Google dictionary:
(n) a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.
informal: a feeling of persistent worry about something trivial.
From the Free Dictionary online:
(n) a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish.
From Cambridge Dictionaries Online:
(n) strong worry and unhappiness, especially about personal problems.
There seems to be disagreement - at least among dictionary makers - about whether angst derives from anxiety about the state of the world (as I thought in my conversation with Abe) and our existence or from more trivial, less existential personal problems. And yes, I'm familiar with teenage angst, which could stem from all of these sources; teenage angst seems to have changed many of the primary connotations of angst, such that now many people believe angst is about listening to broody music and unwarranted adolescent self-pity. Much of this debate around the meaning of angst can be seen at Urban Dictionary (which I don't turn to as an authority but as a reasonable indicator of popular semantic disagreement).
Our rabbit hole led us to look at usage in media, which turns up headlines like these:
What strikes me about these (and thousands of other) examples is that they violate the "unspecific" element of many definitions of angst; indeed, angst is being tied directly to some problem or situation, appearing roughly synonymous with "worry," "concern," or "forlornness."
Q. Has the meaning of angst shifted?
Q. If "angst" now means (to most people) either a) pathetic adolescent navel-gazing, or b) "concern" or "fretfulness" because of some problem or situation, then what other word might I use to express "an acute but unspecific feeling of anxiety, particularly about the world in general and the human condition?"