Worrying is so furtive. It can go on, and often does go on, while something else is in the mind.
There’s something, I think, geological about worry. It’s down there, burrowing under our day, what we are doing, what we’re talking about, can be these kind of subterranean anxieties that I think are really on the margins of being in language, on the margins of being expressible…
The word worry , says Frances O’Gorman in a captivating interview with Philip Adams on ABC Radio National’s excellent Late Night Live, didn’t emerge in the everyday modern usage till the mid 19th century. Gert checked this out in the OED. Starting with Middle English, the word generally refers to choking, strangling and savaging with the teeth, as dogs do to sheep. The sense of to give way to anxiety or mental disquietude doesn’t occur till 1860. O’Gorman’s theory is that this relates in part to the rise of capitalism – a culture of performance of evaluation, of scheduled time…increasing pressure on individuals to make their work count, to regulate their days, to commute.
The privileging of human choice makes individuals more and more aware that it is their responsibility and only their responsibility to get things right, to choose the right thing…
But here’s the upside. O’Gorman argues that worrying is a good and necessary antidote to the fake happiness industry, the have- a- nice day, the kind of relentless cheeriness that’s thrust upon us by everyone from the cashier at the supermarket to the self-help book industry.
I want to reclaim worry actually in the grandest of terms for being a pale, threadbare sign of what it means simply to be a thoughtful human being, he says.
Gert has made her own contribution to the literature on worrying with a children’s story called The Worries of Walter The Wombat, which starts:
Walter the Wombat was always worrying.
He worried that he might fall into a milkshake.
He worried that he might meet a tiger beetle.
He worried that his feet might melt.
And most of all he worried about worrying.
The Late Night Live interview is at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/worrying/6636954
A warning – you could well become addicted to LNL podcasts. Philip Adams has guests from all over the world covering an amazing range of subjects – everything from Donald Trump to the Greek crisis to Judas to Burma to saving rhinos with 3D printing, and more.
Frances O’Gorman, Worrying, a Literary and Cultural History (Bloomsbury 2015).