As a psychoanalyst and translator, I've always been challenged with the translation of Freud's complete work from English to Portuguese, my native language.

One point of translation contention, regarding the general misuse of the German terms and words, has to do with the usage and the meaning of the word anxiety: there are translators who believe it is not the right word, and that the correct one should be anguish. Unfortunately, there is no common sense regarding this issue, and I usually tend to use what is most commonly used by most of the official translators—anxiety.

However, I still have mixed feelings about this choice. Anguish or anxiety? Can you help me with the ordinary usage of such words in English itself?

  • 1
    This article {from Mcgill University, I believe} contrasts fear, anxiety and anguish. It is admittedly written in a psychological register, but there seems to be a large overlap with everyday usage. It is stated that (1b) there is a gradation, with anguish being the worst; (1a) there are overlaps in meaning, but (2) anguish need not involve the apprehension that anxiety does. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 13 '15 at 18:23
  • I know you are Portuguese and not Spanish however I think you might find the Español-Deutsch forum on Wordreference.com useful. If you have some familiarity with Spanish, you can ask German speakers for a direct translation. Translating from Spanish to Portuguese should be easier than going from German to English to Portuguese. – chasly - reinstate Monica Jul 13 '15 at 18:27
  • Could you please include the original German word that you are referencing? – Blubberguy22 Jul 13 '15 at 18:30
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    You have anxiety that your professor will ask the difference between anxiety and anguish on the big test. You have anguish when he does and you realize you answered it wrong. – Hot Licks Jul 13 '15 at 19:21

From the OED:

anguish, n.

Severe mental suffering, excruciating or oppressive grief or distress.

anxiety, n.

The quality or state of being anxious; uneasiness or trouble of mind about some uncertain event; solicitude, concern.

Anxiety requiring the definition of:

anxious, adj.

Troubled or uneasy in mind about some uncertain event; being in painful or disturbing suspense; concerned, solicitous.

Therefore, anguish is more akin to suffering and pain while anxiety is like worry and stress. It's the question of whether it's talking about stress or grief.

I could say:

I am in anguish because my brother has been stabbed and killed by a fork-wielding giant spider.

Which gives the feeling of distress (over the giant spider) and grief (over the loss of my brother).

I could also say:

I have a lot of anxiety because of my upcoming space-license "road"-test.

Which would give the feeling of uneasiness because of an uncertain event (my test).

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Anguish implies acute pain, anxiety implies chronic fear.

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