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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.
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 distressing
  • Besides this, the unbroken darkness had had a distressing effect upon my eyes.
  • Every day his arguments became more extreme, more rigorously exact, and more distressing to his master.
  • One of the distressing features of the malarial fever which had been ravaging the troops was that it was recurrent and persistent.
  • The taming procedure can be so distressing to the animals that some cut off their own air supply by stepping on their trunks.
  • The pace of these weather events is increasingly disturbing and distressing.
  • It is distressing how much of our political theater is farce.
  • Other indicators of consumer expectations look similarly distressing.
  • It is rather distressing to read a celebratory account of a company's annual general body meeting.
  • Though it is distressing to be enduring such a dismal election campaign, it is not unprecedented.
  • We find this particularly distressing in a scholarly community supposedly devoted to freewheeling inquiry.
British Dictionary definitions for distressing


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 distressing



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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distressing 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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Encyclopedia Article for distressing


in law, process that enables a person to seize and detain from a wrongdoer some chattel, or item of personal property, as a pledge for the redressing of an injury, the performance of a duty, or the satisfaction of a demand. Distress was frequently levied without legal process, but requirements have become more stringent and now often necessitate some type of court action.

Learn more about distress with a free trial on
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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