Wound vs. Injury

By Maeve Maddox

A reader questions the media’s use of injury and wound as if they were interchangeable:

I had always thought that “to wound” describes the deliberate infliction of an injury, while the injury itself could be the result of an accident.  If this is still the case, could you address the confusion.

In modern usage, the noun wound [WOOND] refers to any injury that tears the flesh.

The verb to wound [WOOND], however, retains its earliest meaning: “to inflict a deliberate injury that tears the flesh.”

For example, a police officer who is shot or stabbed by a perpetrator has been wounded. A fireman who suffers lacerations from being struck by falling debris has been injured.

Both the officer and the firefighter have wounds on their bodies, but only the officer was wounded. Likewise, soldiers are wounded by roadside bombs, but construction workers are injured in accidents. The difference is that the wounds suffered by the soldiers are the result of malicious intent, whereas the construction workers received their wounds as the result of accident.

In addition to their literal meanings, both noun and verb have acquired figurative uses. For example, an insult may be said to wound the recipient.

I am very sorry if I wounded your feelings this afternoon; it was wholly unintentional, I assure you.

Narcissism usually starts with a significant emotional wound or a series of them culminating in a major trauma of separation/attachment. 

The verb wound, documented in English from 760, predates the noun wound by about 150 years. The earliest documentation of the noun injury is from 1382. In the 15th century, injury was used both as a noun and as a verb, but by the end of the 17th century, the verb form injure had become established.

The earliest meaning of the noun injury is “hurt or loss caused to or sustained by a person or thing.” Synonyms for this type of injury are harm, detriment, and damage.

The verb that developed from injury meant, “to do injustice or wrong to a person.” Only later did the idea of bodily harm become as closely associated with the words injury and injure as it is now.

The word wound carries an emotional connotation that injury and injure lack. A false report might injure a person’s career, but wound a person’s feelings.

Injure is more or less emotionally neutral, but wound suggests strong emotions of distress or anguish.

The following words are options for describing wound in the sense of a break in the flesh:
lesion
cut
gash
laceration
tear
slash
graze
scratch
abrasion
bruise
contusion

The following words are options for wound in the context of emotional injury:
insult
blow
slight
offense
affront
hurt
damage
pain
distress
grief
anguish
torment

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3 Responses to “Wound vs. Injury”

  • Curtis Manges

    Thanks, Maeve. I’ve got that on a new sticky note on my monitor.

  • venqax

    In my own mind “wound” has a meaning pretty much limited to martial contexts. If a lumberjack were to suffer from an uncontrolled chain saw or someone were stabbed in a bar fight, I would say both were injured, not wounded, even though flesh was torn in both cases and malicious intent was behind the latter. Saying one was wounded, to me, distinctly connotes injury in a military action of some kind (except in obviously metaphorical cases like “wounded feelings”, etc.)

  • Kingsley Charles

    I think I quite chime with your opinion, Venqax, on the restriction of ‘wound’ to martial contexts and ‘injury’ to day-to-day cuts. As a student in Nigeria, I was taught to use ‘wound’ for contusion obtained in a war and ‘injury’ got from an accident.

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