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Is the use of "wore at" vs "wore out" the same?

Few Google examples:

"She was tired of apologizing for the intractability of the land, its people, for the distances that wore at him, the endless driving."

"He said he still enjoys training and competing, but living on the road wore at him more as he got older."

"The thought of never seeing his mother and father again wore at him."

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    Two different meanings. "Wore at him" means "irritated him" or "taxed him". "Wore him out" means "left him exhausted".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 23:24
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    @Hot Licks, if you can provide any reference (e.g., dictionaries) I think you should make your comment into an answer.
    – HeyJude
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 18:48

3 Answers 3

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To me, wear at (or on) is incremental and wear out is total. Something is worn out when wear has made it useless; this may or may not be the result of something wearing at it over a long time.

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  • Please find "wear at" in a dictionary. Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 14:13
  • And "wear on". They may be there, but not with the meanings you give them. Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 14:29
  • My dictionaries are in boxes, so I'm reduced to relying on what I hear people say. Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 22:59
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"To wear at" doesn't exist. At least, in BrE Ngram has no examples of "wear at him" or "wore at him" and in AmE there are very few examples: probably all mistakes.

You can wear something, you can wear it down, wear it out, wear it away...

Dictionaries are your friends!

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  • Try "on": books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 21:44
  • @ Hot Licks That's a search for "wore on", not "wore at". Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 0:42
  • That's what I said, "on".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 3:02
  • Yes. "Wore on him" sounds better to me. But if you click on "1896 - 2005" below that graph to go to Google Books, there are only two actual examples of its use. Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 9:56
  • It seems perfectly cromulent to me. Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 3:20
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Contra Old Brixtonian, BrE and AmE both use "to wear at", e.g. BrE: Cambridge English Dictionary: wear: to become weaker, damaged, or thinner because of continuous use: I really like this shirt but it's starting to wear at the collar. ; AmE: MacMillan Dictionary: wear: if something wears or wears thin, it gets thinner or weaker because it has been used a lot: His shoes were wearing at the heel.

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  • I think these examples are not the same as those given in the question (the former refer to clothes, the latter to toleration of people/events)
    – HeyJude
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 15:19
  • What you're actually seeing is the difference between intransitive and transitive usage, literal and metaphorical usage, the clothes being (passive-voice) worn-at or worn-down in the sense of weakened by abrasion, the distances and road-living (active-voice) wearing-at or wearing-down those men, again weakening them by metaphorical abrasion of their spirits.
    – Raven
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 15:38
  • Old Brixtonian's AmE link is to Google Books, which brings up examples like St. Charles Church history "Yet after years of struggling, Charles’s tireless work began to wear at him. In 1584 he became ill with a fever and died." ; CJ Cherryh, The Pride of Chanur "This go-and-stop-again psyching for challenge would wear at him by the hour."
    – Raven
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 16:04
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    Things become worn. (Damaged and shabby as a result of much use). Clothes might become worn at the elbows or at the cuffs or around the neck. Nothing wears at people. Please find me that usage in a dictionary. Of course we know what the writer means: the same as we know what he/she means by "bob wire fence". And there seem to be more or less as many books containing "bob wire fence" as there are containing "wore at me". Perhaps "bob wire" will make it into the dictionaries if people say it enough. But I hope "wear at" doesn't. It's not as funny. Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 1:01
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    @Raven If the original question had asked about "the distances left him looking worn", "living on the road meant he was feeling worn" and "the thought made him worn" then that would be OK. It is the words "wore at him" that I'm questioning. There are many examples of the usage of your "tired" meaning at lexico.com/en/definition/wear but not one of them has the formula "X wears at". If it existed I think it would be there. Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 9:26

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