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Hunger pangs versus hunger pains

Posted by Wendy Wood on 21st September , 2021 in Grammar
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This past weekend I ran across an article titled “10 phrases that people get wrong and probably don’t even know it”. My first thought was “I wonder how many of these my husband, Matt, uses?” Little did I know I would be pointing the finger back at myself.

My entire family knows I get hangry. You know: that irritability you feel from the effects of hunger. No? Not everyone gets that way? Mine is so bad our son suggested I start carrying emergency snacks in my purse. I guess he’s forgotten about the clear benefits of my getting hangry and refusing to walk any farther—the delicious waffles from the stand in Belgium and the charcuterie, cheese and wine from a café in Paris, which we all enjoyed when I didn’t have snacks on hand.

I was surprised when I read the “10 phrases” article and saw that I may be using an incorrect phrase to tell my family I’m about to get hangry. I’ve always told them I’m suffering from hunger pains. Macquarie Dictionary agrees with me and has a listing for “hunger pain”. The rest of the world, however, says the correct phrase is “hunger pang”.

In its early use, pang referred to the sudden and painful contractions in childbirth, and that application influenced its use for the abdominal contractions related to hunger.

All I know is those hunger pangs definitely feel like pains, and my family understands that means they’d better find me food quickly!

Wendy Wood


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