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It was the most gut-retching thing I have ever heard.

Wrenching sounds like it would make sense, but so does retching.

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I think you want "gut-wrenching"; "retching" involves something coming up from your gut and out of your mouth: also called puking or throwing up, although normally retching refers to the sound and motion of throwing up with or without any actual regurgitation.

Something that is gut-wrenching is extremely disconcerting in a visceral sort of way. You might throw up as a reaction but that is not the usual outcome, and certainly it's not a necessary condition.

The scene at a shopping mall in Tucson last weekend was gut-wrenching to all who witnessed it, and even to most of those who only heard about it in the news.

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  • Indeed. "Wrenching" is generally means twisting/turning/distressing.
    – Noldorin
    Jan 12, 2011 at 14:47
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    Seconded. Retching is the act of vomiting without actually 'throwing anything up', also known as the dry-heaves. The 'wrenching' refers to the sudden 'sinking feeling' in the stomach during moments of distress.
    – user3444
    Jan 12, 2011 at 14:52
  • @ElendinTheTall: Good point about retching. While it is certainly a synonym for throwing up, it is usually used in the sense of the sound and the fury of throwing up without any actual regurgitation. I'll edit to make that distinction clear.
    – Robusto
    Jan 12, 2011 at 14:58
  • Indeed. There’s also a grammatical point here: gut-wrenching means ‘wrenching [your] guts’, which makes perfect sense; gut-retching would mean ‘retching [your] guts’, but retching is not normally a transitive verb. (It can be used transitively, but this is rare in modern usage.)
    – PLL
    Jan 12, 2011 at 16:14
  • Retching, vomiting, and regurgitation are all distinct. To vomit involves expelling digested material, while regurgitation is undigested material. Retching, as was pointed out, involves similar muscle movements and pressure changes without anything coming out.
    – user26271
    Sep 19, 2012 at 19:58

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