What does "wound up" mean in this case? And is it treated as adjective?

In The Magician's Nephew from C.S. Lewis's Narnia series:

"Alright, I have then," said Digory in a much louder voice, like a boy who was so miserable that he didn't care who knew he had been crying. "And so would you," he went on, "if you'd lived all your life in the country and had a pony, and a river at the bottom of the garden, and then been brought to live in a beastly Hole like this."

"London isn't a Hole," said Polly indignantly. But the boy was too wound up to take any notice of her, and he went on "And if your father was away in India - and you had to come and live with an Aunt and an Uncle who's mad (who would like that?) - and if the reason was that they were looking after your Mother - and if your Mother was ill and was going to - going to - die." Then his face went the wrong sort of shape as it does if you're trying to keep back your tears.

  • Surely C.S. Lewis would have written all right, not alright, which is not a (standard) word.
    – Théophile
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 17:39

2 Answers 2


Wind up: to bring to a state of great tension; excite (usually used in the past participle)

I believe that the derivation is from an old pocket-watch; they had to be kept wound up (otherwise they would stop ticking) but not wound too tightly (otherwise the internal mechanisms would break.) I never had a pocketwatch, but my grandfather did, and he left us a choice phrase: "That boy is wound tighter than an idiot's watch."

There is also an expression "to get/put the wind up (somebody)" (to scare someone or make them feel anxious - probably originally a hunting term, from the way small game reacts to a sudden wind), which is superficially similar to "to wind up (a watch, or someone's nerves)".

Note on pronunciation (pace @PLL):

  • wind up - IPA waɪnd - rhymes with "find"
  • put the wind up - IPA wɪnd - rhymes with "finned"
  • wound up - IPA waʊnd - rhymes with "found"
  • 1
    Maybe worth noting, for readers unfamiliar with the ford, that wound here is pronounced differently from the noun wound. The past participle wound is pronounced like round, or sound, with approximately the same vowel as town; the noun wound is pronounced with approximately the same vowel as spoon, soon, etc.
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 20:51
  • There is also "wind up" meaning to finish off a task, or close down a company or organization (rhymes with find, past "wound up"). Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 22:39
  • @DJClayworth - I thought of that but didn't want to muddy the waters too much. I can't think of a way in which that sense of "wound up" could apply to Digory, unless he'd recently been fired.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 22:40
  • You're right, it couldn't. I just added it for completeness. That may not have been helpful, in which case sorry. Commented Jun 21, 2011 at 14:00
  • @DJClayworth - Not to worry! There are several other meaning of "wind up" that don't fit here; probably the most commonly-used sense is "settle down / arrive at final destination": "Well, I coulda been an actor / But I wound up here" (Dirty Laundry, Don Henley )
    – MT_Head
    Commented Jun 21, 2011 at 15:52

"Wound up" in the sense of "keyed up" or "upset and nervous"; this idiom is a reference to "winding up" clockwork with a key, implying that winding it more might make it break.

  • Thanks! I've clarified the meaning a bit, and added the implication that the wound-up item might break. Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 21:08
  • np. I'll delete my now-redundant comment. And this one later if you want to (and can - I never know what difference the rep makes :-) delete yours. Commented Jun 21, 2011 at 0:15

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