Judy Hagey

Nonfiction Editor ~ Freelance Writer

Game of Throws

This error threw me for a bitwritingtips. After all, I’ve never seen it on one of those “Top Ten Lists of Words Writers Confuse.” But something about this sentence felt off to me the first time I read it.

When Casey came home after six months in treatment, the Bakers had to learn how to be a family again, without the throws of dysfunctional relationships and drug addiction.

It stands to reason that mistaking throws for throes is an infrequent error since, according to Ngram Viewer, throes appears less than one ten thousandth of one percent in any books published since 1800. In addition, both seem to come from the Old English word brawan meaning to “twist, turn, writhe,” though throes more likely derives from browian, meaning to suffer.

The contemporary meaning of throes is “intense pain or struggle” associated with a great change—often life and death situations. It’s most often used in the phrase in the throes of meaning struggling in the process of. Thus many uses of the phrase are references to childbirth or death. The use of the phrase, in the throes of rose dramatically after 1880 and peaked in the 1930s.

In addition to its original meaning, “to project, propel,” throw has acquired many additional variants in meaning and almost no end of idiomatic uses. Most literal meanings have the sense of movement—most often forward. But it can also be used in the sense of casting off i.e. throw off an opponent, throw off a weight.

But throwing your weight around shows your influence.

You can throw a curve ball and surprise someone.

Considering entering the political fray? You’ll throw your hat in the ring.

Throwing in the towel means you’re giving up.

And if you throw the baby out with the bath water you lose or give up something of value in the process of eliminating what’s useless.

You can throw (host) a party, but it might throw a monkey wrench in the works—interfere with someone else’s plans or a smooth-running operation.

To throw the book at someone is to apply the maximum penalty for an infraction—which might include throwing them in jail.

One of the more recent idioms to make its way into the language is throw someone under the bus. While its origins are inexact, it is a late 20th century construction that is now used in any context in which someone is sacrificed (thrown under the bus) for another’s benefit.

Though there may not be any physical evidence of the trauma, you can be quite sure such an experience puts the victim in the throes of emotional survival.

 

 

 

 

About Judy

Leave a Reply