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I originally learned this word studying for the GRE: https://s3.amazonaws.com/magoosh.resources/magoosh-gre-1000-words_oct01.pdf

chagrin (noun): strong feelings of embarrassment
Much to the the timid writer's chagrin, the audience chanted his name until he came back on the stage.

chagrin (verb): cause to feel shame; hurt the pride of
She never cared what others said about her appearance but was chagrined by the smallest comment from her mother.

Where it's clear that it means embarrassment or shame. Mentally I remembered this by imagining somebody grimacing. The GRE is ruthless you have to know exactly the definition they are looking for, and I'll concede it has appeared that my GRE studies have let me down from what the actual colloquial definition of words are several times.

So I was watching a youtube video: https://youtu.be/CJbP71RI-V4?t=417 where an educated speaker says something like:

squirrels swarmed my yard, much to the chagrin of my neighbors

Where he clearly could only mean annoyance there. At first I thought he was wrong, so I looked it up in an actual dictionary: Merriam & Webster, and found it says "embarrassment or disappointment".

But I still wanted to dig further, so of course the next place I looked was english.stackexchange, where I found the top question:

What does “much to his chagrin” mean?

Where the top ranked answer says it means "annoyed"!

and the other question I could find: Exact meaning of "Chagrin"

says that humiliation is not included at all!

So what's going on here? It appears Educated Youtube Speaker + EL&U users recognize chagrin as annoyance

But Dictionary and GRE recognize it as embarrassment.

There might be some way that context changes the meaning, but I haven't been able to figure it out. Is there a correct meaning? Or is it just one of those words that just has multiple meanings we have to try to use context to determine the speaker's meaning?

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    Emotions are difficult to classify, let alone describe. There are elements of both irritation and personal grievance in chagrin, perhaps at one's own mistake. But emotions are personal and invisible, so they must be described, not defined. Jul 29, 2022 at 17:29
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    Re the ruthless GRE: You can reach the 99 percentile by knowing only that chagrin - very negative, euphoria - very positive. Words are shown in context, as the days of analogies are gone. Jul 29, 2022 at 20:26
  • Can you find better examples? Whatever dictionary they come from, I suggest the Posted specimens are not helpful. Don't you think 'chagrin' always means annoyance, whether or not that stems from embarrassment? Sep 8, 2022 at 19:38
  • I've always understood it to mean "irritation" or "annoyance".
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 23, 2023 at 19:45
  • It's one of those words where many people don't know the exact meaning: you see it used in certain contexts and know roughly what's intended, but don't necessarily know the precise dictionary meaning. There are other commonly misused words like this, some where the misuse is clearer (e.g. "fulsome" which is only used to describe praise but doesn't always mean the same thing.) Quite a lot of words are like this to various extents - and some philosophers would say it's general, at least where you can't easily point to something and say "that's chagrin".
    – Stuart F
    Jul 23, 2023 at 21:14

1 Answer 1

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Clearly the GRE study guide's definition is wrong, or at least incomplete. It seems to come ultimately from WordNet, a quasi-thesaurus whose entries get republished by a number of other websites. WordNet's definitions are generally quite short, being intended primarily to help identify synonyms. In this case, it seems that WordNet has omitted one extremely common sense of the term.

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