In the Last Throes

By Maeve Maddox

An amusing egg-corn that has just appeared on my radar is that of writing in the throes of as “in the throws of.”

A protagonist in the throws of madness

Plaster cast of a Pompeii resident in the throws of death

Iraq is in the last throws of insurgency…

AMD in final death throws?

… in the throws of the epidemic

Question: Why do cockroaches die on their backs?
Answer: Because in the throws of death, they often tip or topple over…

Although both words may derive from the same Old English word, þrawan “to twist, turn writhe,” they’ve been used with distinctly different meanings long enough to make the mix-up amusing. (Throe may derive instead from O.E. þrowian “to suffer.”)

The OED offers these definitions:

throe:
A violent spasm or pang, such as convulses the body, limbs, or face. Also, a spasm of feeling; a paroxysm; agony of mind; anguish.   
 
The pain and struggle of childbirth; pl. labour-pangs.

The agony of death; the death-struggle, death-throe.

A violent convulsion or struggle preceding or accompanying the ‘bringing forth’ of something.

To confuse the issue, there’s a blog called “In the Throws of Resistance,” and a song called “In the Throws of a Moral Quandary.” There’s also a villainous group (Marvel Comics) called “the Death-Throws.” Their name is a pun on death throes. They’re jugglers. The things they throw cause death, hence, “death throws.”

Take care next time you want to express the idea of intense suffering or passion. Throes in the sense of violent feeling is too good a word to throw away.

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8 Responses to “In the Last Throes”

  • Jim

    Yeah. Let’s “hone in on” that.

  • ApK

    Throe. Huh. I did not know that word. I always just assumed it was throw.

  • Connie Oswald Stofko

    I was scrolling through the guide on my TV, and the synopsis of an upcoming movie said treasure hunters had found the “mother-load.” I’d never noticed any typos in the guide before, so I was surprised to see this kind of error. (It didn’t appear to be a pun.) Is this becoming a common error?

  • Kathryn

    Jim–snicker!

  • B. Rambo

    Would a baseball team facing their final pitches be in the throws of defeat?

    As a Phillies fan, I can see teams living through the nightmare of “the throes of Halladay, Hamels et. al.

    🙂

  • B. Rambo

    Would a baseball team facing their final pitches be undergoing the throws of defeat?

    As a Phillies fan, I can see teams living through the nightmare of “the throes” of Halladay, Hamels et. al.

    (I prefer the original emoticon 🙂 to the animated version…)

  • Frank Elliott

    I’m starting to develop a pet theory about these laughably egregious spelling errors that seem to give Maeve an endless supply of topics for the blog. To wit: Folks are not reading enough. (Duhhh!) TV and video may well acquaint viewers with such phrases as “in lieu of” and “in the throes of.” But hearing the word, even if the meaning is clear, does not teach one how to spell it.

  • ApK

    >>TV and video may well acquaint viewers with such phrases as “in lieu of” and “in the throes of.” But hearing the word, even if the meaning is clear, does not teach one how to spell it.<<

    On the other hand, there was great bit from "The Simpsons" where Marge yelled to Lisa to "run like the wind," pronouncing 'wind' like 'to wind a watch.'
    Lisa called back "It's WIND!"
    Marge yells "Well, I've only seen it in books!"

    There are still quite a few names from Mythology and Fantasy books that I have no idea if I'm pronouncing correctly.

    As for "honing in", I think that makes perfect sense, and even the egg corn blog mentions that it may not be an egg corn, but a distinct construction of similar vintage to "home in."

    ApK

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