MiR 050 Shorts – Aggravate or Irritate


Welcome to the Mark in Russia podcast network, episode #50, and I’m your host, Mark. This episode is part of my series of “Shorts” and by this I mean approximately 5 minute long podcasts which are aimed at explaining a Quick Grammar Tip.

You should go to the website, http://www.markinrussia.com and look at the show notes and vocabulary. You’ll get more out of the lesson if you are able to follow it in writing.

Today we’re going to talk about the words, “Aggravate” and “Irritate” and how they are misused very often in speech. I’m guilty of this myself and I also grew up hearing these words misapplied.

Let’s look at some examples:

“You are just trying to aggravate me by cracking your knuckles.” This is wrong.

“You are just trying to annoy me by cracking your knuckles.” This is correct.

“All of the pollen in the air during springtime aggravates my allergies.” This is correct

“All of the pollen in the air during springtime irritates my allergies.” This is wrong.

Another example:

“His constant teasing aggravated me.” This is wrong.

“His constant teasing annoyed me.” This is correct.

“His constant teasing irritated me.” This is also correct.

OK, let’s discuss the proper usage of these words.

“Aggravate” comes from the root word “Grave” in the sense of “serious”. It means to worsen a situation. In other words, a situation already exists and is made worse by whatever “aggravates” it.

Let me describe a situation; a woman is in trouble with her boss. Her work has not been up to standards; co-workers are complaining about her and this morning, due to heavy traffic, she is 20 minutes late for work. In the situation I just described, her coming in late today has aggravated her position at the company, in other words, it has made things worse than they already were.

To “Irritate” means to bother, granted a strong sense of bother.

So, let’s set up a situation using irritate. Two guys share a small office. One of them has a habit of removing his shoes when he is sitting at his desk and his feet typically have an unpleasant odor. If everything else between these two guys is OK, we can say that this habit irritates the other guy.

If, in addition to smelly feet he also sings songs quite badly and loudly, keeps a messy desk and is always speaking on the phone loudly with his mother. In this new revised situation I just described, we could use the word aggravated in terms of his smelly feet, because of all of the already pre-existing problems.

OK, let’s take a short Joke break now, and when we come back we’ll talk about a few synonyms.

OK, I have a couple of “GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS” jokes

Two 90-year-old women, Rose and Barb, had been friends all of their lives. When it was clear that Rose was dying, Barb visited her every day. One day Barb said, “Rose, we both loved playing softball all our lives, and we played all through High School. Please do me one favor: when you get to Heaven, somehow you must let me know if there’s women’s softball there.”

Rose looked up at Barb from her deathbed and said, “Barb, you’ve been my best friend for many years. If it’s at all possible, I’ll do this favor for you.” Shortly after that, Rose passed on.

At midnight a few nights later, Barb was awakened from a sound sleep by a blinding flash of white light and a voice calling out to her, “Barb, Barb.”

“Who is it?” asked Barb, sitting up suddenly. “Who is it?”

“Barb, it’s me, Rose.”

“You’re not Rose. Rose just died.”

“I’m telling you, it’s me, Rose,” insisted the voice.

“Rose! Where are you?”

“In Heaven,” replied Rose. “I have some really good news and a little bad news.”

“Tell me the good news first,” said Barb.

“The good news,” Rose said, “is that there’s Softball in Heaven. Better yet all of our old buddies who died before us are here, too. Better than that, we’re all young again. Better still, it’s always springtime, and it never rains or snows. And best of all, we can play softball all we want, and we never get tired.”

“That’s fantastic,” said Barb. “It’s beyond my wildest dreams! So what’s
the bad news?”

“You’re pitching Tuesday.”

The good news- After 9 days, I finally had a bowel movement.

The bad news- I was stuck in traffic at the time.

OK, welcome back and let’s wrap this up now.

I promised you a couple of synonyms concerning irritate.

Annoyed is a synonym of irritate, although annoy is a lesser degree.

To inflame or to exasperate are also both synonyms for to irritate.

Some people would argue that we can just use all of these words as synonyms in all situation, that blurring the distinction causes no harm. I would argue that why should we dumb down the language and have so many words that mean the same thing. I feel that it is far better to have words which express varying degrees concerning similar situations. This is what makes a language rich.

Thanks for listening through to the end of this episode, come back again next week for a new Quick Grammar Tip. Until that time, Thanks and Goodbye!

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