worrying at him like an aching tooth

SuprunP

Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
Whenever he remembered the weather at that time an old torment returned, worrying at him like an aching tooth: that Jan might have died slowly.
(Clare Francis; Wolf Winter)

worry at sth
if an animal worries at something, it holds it in its mouth and keeps biting or shaking it
Longman Phrasal Verbs
Does the author liken an aching tooth to an animal that keeps biting you? Can I say then: "My aching tooth is worrying at me; my finger (I hammered it yesterday) is worrying at me etc."?

Thanks.
 
  • Riverby

    Senior Member
    NZ English
    Yes, the author likens the tooth to the animal that keeps on biting. But saying your tooth or finger is worrying at you sounds very strange to me. In everyday conversation you'd be more likely to say : I've got a raging toothache, my sore finger is aching/ throbbing / painful / agonising
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    This means "giving him constant pain, in the manner of a toothache."

    Well, you could certainly say "My finger is worrying at me," but, at least to me, you'd sound like a refugee from the 1730's. Thriller writers often use very odd "synonyms" that they find in the ol' thesaurus to make their writing more "literary." It just, at least to me, makes their writing sound pretty gosh-darn bizarre. Why not "painful as a toothache"? or "as insistent as a toothache"? Probably because the editor was three martinis past lunch by the time s/he got to this page of the manuscript.
     

    Destruida

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Whenever he remembered the weather at that time an old torment returned, worrying at him like an aching tooth: that Jan might have died slowly.
    (Clare Francis; Wolf Winter)
    Does the author liken an aching tooth to an animal that keeps biting you? Can I say then: "My aching tooth is worrying at me; my finger (I hammered it yesterday) is worrying at me etc."?
    Thanks.
    1. Each time he remembers what the weather was like when Jan died, he worries that her death may have been slow; the thought worries him; it also worries at him; the specific worry torments him; the worry in general (feeling of being worried) torments him.
    2. He can't get of the painful worry, can't shut it out and concentrate on anything else; it nags at him like an aching tooth that won't give you any peace until it's extracted or cured.

    He's likening the nagging pain of the recurring unanswered question to an aching tooth, that's all. You've been confused by finding too much information; one use of worry and worry at is to describe the way carnivores chew, shake and tear something, but it's irrelevant here.
    I haven't explained very well!:(
     

    Destruida

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Does the author liken an aching tooth to an animal that keeps biting you? Can I say then: "My aching tooth is worrying at me; my finger (I hammered it yesterday) is worrying at me etc."?
    On the whole, I think one would say, "My aching tooth is bothering me; my finger is bothering me," if you mean that they hurt enough to prevent you from concentratinhg on or achieving other things, but I'd use, "My aching tooth is worrying me; my finger is worrying me," to express serious concern, that it may be gangrened or septic, for instance.
    (Worry, not worry at. How d'you do crossed-out text?))
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Worry, not worry at.
    Exactly. "Worry" isn't equivalent to "worry at." And "worry at" particularly means "to wear on," "to fray." Probably the huge mass of readers would just skip the "at," but it's there - and it's leading to a rather tortured metaphor.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    What's the difference between worrying and worrying at? A dog can both worry a bone and worry at a bone. I'd say that the second (worry at) suggests a more casual and intermittent concern with the bone. He worried the bone suggests he really went aggressively at it over a period.

    So the tooth worried at him suggests to me that the pain wasn't extreme but it was recurrent and persistent. There is certainly personification of the tooth, and the writer wants one to sense an image of an animal repeatedly gnawing at something in a desultory way.
     

    Destruida

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Incidentally, was the remembered weather violent, stormy, tempestuous? When I read the quoted excerpt, I thought of the cloches de tourmente in the Cévennes - bells that rang out across the hills and valleys to warn of the approach of the violent storms that sweep across the region. The phrase always makes me shiver.
    tourmente- torment
     
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