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[dih-stres] /dɪˈstrɛs/
great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; acute physical or mental suffering; affliction; trouble.
a state of extreme necessity or misfortune.
the state of a ship or airplane requiring immediate assistance, as when on fire in transit.
that which causes pain, suffering, trouble, danger, etc.
liability or exposure to pain, suffering, trouble, etc.; danger:
a damsel in distress.
  1. the legal seizure and detention of the goods of another as security or satisfaction for debt, etc.; the act of distraining.
  2. the thing seized in distraining.
to dent, scratch, or stain (furniture, lumber, or the like) so as to give an appearance of age.
afflicted with or suffering distress:
distress livestock; distress wheat.
caused by or indicative of distress or hardship:
distress prices; distress borrowing.
verb (used with object)
to afflict with great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; trouble; worry; bother.
to subject to pressure, stress, or strain; embarrass or exhaust by strain:
to be distressed by excessive work.
to compel by pain or force of circumstances:
His suffering distressed him into committing suicide.
Origin of distress
1250-1300; (noun) Middle English destresse < Anglo-French distresse, destresse, Old French < Vulgar Latin *districtia, equivalent to Latin district(us) (see district) + -ia -y3; (v.) Middle English destressen < Anglo-French destresser (Old French destrecier), derivative of the noun
Related forms
distressingly, adverb
predistress, noun, verb (used with object)
1. agony, anguish, adversity, tribulation. See sorrow. 2. need, destitution.
1. comfort. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for distress
  • The hot trend in movie heroines is not the damsel in distress.
  • Each item was categorized into one of eight subscales that ranged from academic distress to alcohol use and abuse.
  • We evidently agree on very little, including personal decorum, so this particular difference should distress neither of us.
  • They listen at all hours for weather reports, distress calls, and reports of lost or found traps.
  • Outside the Fixers room, umbrellas in various stages of distress were being altered.
  • Emotional distress can touch off or worsen an asthma attack, though allergists doubt that emotions are ever the basic cause.
  • They see how they can help others in distress as well, he says.
  • The cubs were panting and mewling pitifully, clearly in distress; normally cubs stay in their den during the heat of the day.
  • Some airports broadcast tape recordings of bird-distress calls.
  • I'm no marriage counselor, but I recognize true signs of spousal distress.
British Dictionary definitions for distress


verb (transitive)
to cause mental pain to; upset badly
(usually passive) to subject to financial or other trouble
to damage (esp furniture), as by scratching or denting it, in order to make it appear older than it is
(law) a less common word for distrain
(archaic) to compel
mental pain; anguish
the act of distressing or the state of being distressed
physical or financial trouble
in distress, (of a ship, aircraft, etc) in dire need of help
  1. the seizure and holding of property as security for payment of or in satisfaction of a debt, claim, etc; distraint
  2. the property thus seized
  3. (US) (as modifier): distress merchandise
Derived Forms
distressful, adjective
distressfully, adverb
distressfulness, noun
distressing, adjective, noun
distressingly, adverb
Word Origin
C13: from Old French destresse distress, via Vulgar Latin, from Latin districtus divided in mind; see distrain
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for distress

late 13c., "circumstance that causes anxiety or hardship," from Old French destresse, from Vulgar Latin *districtia "restraint, affliction, narrowness, distress," from Latin districtus, past participle of distringere "draw apart, hinder," also, in Medieval Latin "compel, coerce," from dis- "apart" (see dis-) + stringere "draw tight, press together" (see strain (v.)). Meaning "anguish, suffering; grief" is from c.1300.


late 14c., from Old French destresser, from Vulgar Latin *districtiare (see distress (n.)). Related: Distressed; distressing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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distress in Medicine

distress dis·tress (dĭ-strěs')

  1. Mental or physical suffering or anguish.

  2. Severe strain resulting from exhaustion or trauma.

dis·tress' adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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