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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: fraught

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


When negative emotions — from tension, distress, or uneasiness — get the better of you, you may have occasion to describe yourself as being in a fraught (pronounced “FROT”) situation, or fraught yourself.

The word derives from the Dutch and German vract, “ship’s cargo,” and vrachten, “to load with cargo.” The word is also related to freight. The English adjective originally meant “laden,” “well supplied.”

It did not take long for a metaphoric sense of being overloaded to appear, thus speaking of situations “fraught with tension.” You’ll notice that freighted can occupy similar territory. And when a situation is “fraught with danger,” it is easy to become fraught oneself: uneasy, emotional, tense, distressed.

Example: From Nerdist, April 13, 2017, “The Handmaid’s Tale is One of the Best Shows in Years”: “That Handmaid’s Tale can do all this with visual aplomb, emotional resonance, and incredibly fraught but riveting tension, makes it one of the strongest TV debuts in years.”


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