AskDefine | Define angst

Dictionary Definition

Angst n : an acute but unspecific feeling of anxiety; usually reserved for philosophical anxiety about the world or about personal freedom

User Contributed Dictionary

see Angst



Introduced from angst via existentialist Søren Kierkegaard, from angest, from angust. See .



  1. A feeling of acute but vague anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression, especially philosophical anxiety.
  2. More commonly, painful sadness or emotional turmoil, as teen angst.


  • pedialite angst
  • American Heritage 2000
  • WordNet 2003



  1. fear





From , related to anger.


  1. angst

Extensive Definition

Angst or anguish is a Germanic word for fear or anxiety. It is used in English to describe an intense feeling of emotional strife. In German, it is the fear of possible suffering and a behavior resulting from uncertainty and strain which is caused by pain, loss, and death. The term Angst distinguishes itself from the word Furcht (German for "fear") in that Furcht usually refers to a material threat (arranged fear), while Angst is usually a nondirectional emotion. However, today Furcht is rarely, if ever, used, and fear of [...] is expressed as Angst vor [...].
In other languages having the meaning of the Latin word anxietas and pavor, the derived words differ in meaning, e.g as in the French anxieté and peur.
The word Angst has existed since the 8th century, coming from the base-Indoeuropean *anghu-, "restraint" from which Old High German angust develops. It is pre-cognate with the Latin angustia, "tensity, tightness" and angor, "choking, clogging"; compare to the Greek "άγχος" (ankhos): stress.


A different but related meaning is used by existentialists, first attributed to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (18131855). In The Concept of Dread (also known as "The Concept of Anxiety", depending on the translation), Kierkegaard used the word Angest (Danish, meaning "dread") to describe a profound and deep-seated spiritual condition of insecurity and despair in the free human being. Where the animal is a slave to its instincts but always confident in its own actions, Kierkegaard believed that the freedom given to mankind leaves the human in a constant fear of failing its responsibilities to God. Kierkegaard's concept of angst is considered to be an important stepping stone for 20th-century existentialism. While Kierkegaard's feeling of angst is fear of actual responsibility to God, in modern use, angst was broadened by the later existentialists to include general frustration associated with the conflict between actual responsibilities to self, one's principles, and others (possibly including God). Martin Heidegger used the term in a slightly different way.

"Teenage angst" and popular music

Angst, in contemporary connotative use, most often describes the intense frustration and other related emotions of teenagers and the mood of the music and art with which they identify. Punk rock, grunge, nu metal, emo, and virtually any alternative rock dramatically combining elements of discord, melancholy and excitement may be said to express angst.
Angst was probably first discussed in relation to contemporary music in the mid to late 1950s in relation to music favoured by people influenced by the campaign for nuclear disarmament, especially jazz and folk. Songs like Bob Dylan's 1963 Masters of War and A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall articulated the dread caused by the threat of nuclear extinction. A key text is Jeff Nuttall's book Bomb Culture (1968) which traced this pervasive theme in popular culture back to Hiroshima.
In the 1980s "teen angst" was expressed in music to a certain extent in the rise of punk, post punk, and alternative music with which it is currently more associated. It was probably first used in reference to the grunge movement and the band Nirvana. Nirvana themselves seem to have been aware of this, as evidenced by the first line of "Serve the Servants" in which Kurt Cobain describes the success of writing songs dealing with the subject (Teenage angst has paid off well | Now I'm bored and old...). In addition, rock band Placebo released a single from their first album entitled Teenage Angst. Also, From First To Last's first full-length album quotes a line of dialogue from black comedy film Heathers, entitled Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has A Body Count, and the same line appears in their single "Ride The Wings Of Pestilence". Another band that has done this is "The Wombats" in which their line (In their hit single 'Kill the Director') is "And with the ANGST of a teenage band, here's another song about a gender I'll never understand."

Some other things

The term "angst" is now widely used as a theme by many great modern writers. Often, the expression is used as a common adolescent experience of malaise, as in J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye; in this sense it has become one of the central themes in modern fiction.

See also

angst in German: Angst
angst in Spanish: Angst
angst in French: Angoisse
angst in Ido: Angoro
angst in Italian: Angoscia

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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