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[hahrsh] /hɑrʃ/
ungentle and unpleasant in action or effect:
harsh treatment; harsh manners.
grim or unpleasantly severe; stern; cruel; austere:
a harsh life; a harsh master.
physically uncomfortable; desolate; stark:
a harsh land.
unpleasant to the ear; grating; strident:
a harsh voice; a harsh sound.
unpleasantly rough, ragged, or coarse to the touch:
a harsh surface.
jarring to the eye or to the esthetic sense; unrefined; crude; raw:
harsh colors.
unpleasant to the taste or sense of smell; bitter; acrid:
a harsh flavor; a harsh odor.
Origin of harsh
1250-1300; Middle English harsk; cognate with German harsch, Danish harsk rancid
Related forms
harshly, adverb
harshness, noun
overharsh, adjective
overharshly, adverb
overharshness, noun
unharsh, adjective
unharshly, adverb
2. brusque, hard, unfeeling, unkind, brutal, acrimonious, bad-tempered. See stern1 . 3. rough. 4. discordant, dissonant, unharmonious. 6. unesthetic. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for harshness
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Of harshness in modulation he knew nothing: his chromatic changes were as soft and flowing as when he kept to the diatonic genus.

    Bach Charles Francis Abdy Williams
  • Fortune made amends for the harshness she had shown him at Milan.

    Samuel Brohl & Company Victor Cherbuliez
  • They do not propose to hurt our feelings at all by harshness.

  • “But, your reverence, listen——” began the alcalde, alarmed by the harshness of these words.

    An Eagle Flight Jos Rizal
  • Again Brutus's considerateness for his dependants is in strong contrast with the harshness of Roman masters.

  • harshness, injustice, became forced upon him as qualities of his acts.

    An Anarchist Woman Hutchins Hapgood
British Dictionary definitions for harshness


rough or grating to the senses
stern, severe, or cruel
(transitive) (slang) to cause (a state of elation) to be diminished or ended (esp in the phrases harsh someone's mellow and harsh someone's buzz)
Derived Forms
harshly, adverb
harshness, noun
Word Origin
C16: probably of Scandinavian origin; compare Middle Low German harsch, Norwegian harsk rancid
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 harshness

late 14c., from harsh + -ness.



originally of texture, "hairy," 1530s, probably from harske "rough, coarse, sour" (c.1300), a northern word of Scandinavian origin (cf. Danish and Norwegian harsk "rancid, rank"), related to Middle Low German harsch "rough, raw," German harst "a rake;" perhaps from PIE root *kars- "to scrape, scratch, rub, card" (cf. Lithuanian karsiu "to comb," Old Church Slavonic krasta, Russian korosta "to itch," Latin carduus "thistle," Sanskrit kasati "rubs, scratches"). Meaning "offensive to feelings" is from 1570s; "disagreeable, rude" from 1610s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for harshness



To nag and complain; nudge (1990s+ Teenagers)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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