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Edvard Munch tried to represent "an infinite scream passing through nature" in The Scream (1893)

Angst is a German, Danish, Norwegian and Dutch word for fear or anxiety. (Anguish is its Latinate equivalent.) It is used in English to describe an intense feeling of strife. The term Angst distinguishes itself from the word Furcht (German for "fear") in that Furcht usually refers to a material threat (arranged fear), while Angst is usually a nondirectional emotion. Angst normally means a feeling or fear towards anything strange coming up.

In other languages having the meaning of the Latin word pavor, the derived words differ in meaning, e.g. as in the French anxiété and peur. The word Angst has existed since the 8th century, from the Proto-Indo-European root *anghu-, "restraint" from which Old High German angust develops. It is pre-cognate with the Latin angustia, "tensity, tightness" and angor, "choking, clogging"; compare to the Greek "άγχος" (ankhos): stress.



Existentialist philosophers use the term "angst" with a different connotation. The use of the term was first attributed to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855). In The Concept of Dread (also known as "The Concept of Anxiety", depending on the translation), Kierkegaard used the word Angest (in common Danish, angst, meaning "dread" or "anxiety") to describe a profound and deep-seated spiritual condition of insecurity and despair in the free human being. Where the animal is a slave to its instincts but always conscious in its own actions, Kierkegaard believed that the freedom given to people leaves the human in a constant fear of failing his/her responsibilities to God. Kierkegaard's concept of angst is considered to be an important stepping stone for 20th-century existentialism. While Kierkegaard's feeling of angst is fear of actual responsibility to God, in modern use, angst was broadened by the later existentialists to include general frustration associated with the conflict between actual responsibilities to self, one's principles, and others (possibly including God). Martin Heidegger used the term in a slightly different way.

Classical music

Angst in serious musical composition has been a reflection of the times. Musical composition embodying angst as a primary theme have primarily come from European Jewish composers such as Gustav Mahler and Alban Berg, written during a period a great persecution of the Jewish people shortly before and during European Nazi rule. A notable exception is the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich whose symphonies use the theme of angst in post-World War II compositions depicting Russian strife during the war. However, it is the Jewish artists, Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka in music and literature that have embraced the theme of angst so highly in their work that they have become synonymous with the term to the point of popular joking and cartoons today.

Angst appears to be absent from important French music. Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie and Maurice Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, composed before World War II, reflect melancholy sentiment without angst in soft, quiet compositions. The effect of angst is achieved by Shostakovich, Mahler and Berg in compositions of wide dynamic range, at times seemingly spinning out of control (Mahler), and atonal music using the twelve-tone row method of composition (Berg and others) to create an angst ridden atmosphere of grotesque sound.

The theme of angst is vividly portrayed in Mahler's Symphony No. 6 (The Tragic) and in Alban Berg's poignant Violin Concerto, dedicated to "To the memory of an angel", for the death of friend Gustav Mahler’s daughter.

In popular music

Angst, in contemporary connotative use, most often describes the intense frustration and other related emotions of teenagers and the mood of the music and art with which they identify. Heavy metal, punk rock, grunge, nu metal, emo, and virtually any alternative rock dramatically combining elements of discord, melancholy and excitement may be said to express angst. Angst was probably first discussed in relation to popular music in the mid- to late 1950s that was popular amongst the nuclear disarmament and antiwar protester subculture. Folk rock songs like Bob Dylan's 1963 Masters of War and A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall articulated the dread caused by the threat of nuclear war. A key text is Jeff Nuttall's book Bomb Culture (1968) which traced this pervasive theme in popular culture back to Hiroshima.

In the 1980s "teen angst" was expressed in music to a certain extent in the rise of punk, post punk, and alternative music with which it is currently more associated. It was used in reference to the grunge movement and the band Nirvana. Nirvana themselves seem to have been aware of this, as evidenced by the first line of "Serve the Servants" in which Kurt Cobain describes the success of writing songs dealing with the subject (Teenage angst has paid off well | Now I'm bored and old...). In addition, rock band Placebo released a single from their first album entitled Teenage Angst. Also, From First To Last's first full-length album quotes a line of dialogue from black comedy film Heathers, entitled Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has A Body Count, and the same line appears in their single "Ride The Wings Of Pestilence". Another band that has done this is The Wombats in which their line (In their single "Kill the Director") is "And with the angst of a teenage band, here's another song about a gender I'll never understand." Another song to mention the term is Silverchair's song "Miss You Love", which says: "I love the way you love/But I hate the way I'm supposed to love you back/It's just a fad/Part of the, teen, teenage angst brigade". another band that mentions angst is Rise Against with their song "Six Ways til Sunday" "You're the new revolution/The angst-filled adolescent/You fit the stereotype well"

Angst in My Pants is the eleventh album by Sparks.

In fiction and film

The term "angst" is now widely used as a theme by many great modern writers. Often, the expression is used as a common adolescent experience of malaise, as in J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye. It has become one of the central themes in modern fiction.

Franz Kafka is the writer whose work is most associated with the theme of angst. His novels The Trial and The Castle, and the short story "The Metamorphosis" all share this theme.

See also


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also Angst




Introduced from Danish angst via existentialist Søren Kierkegaard, from Middle High German angest, from Old High German angust. See Proto-Indo-European *angh-. Also related to the German and Dutch Angst.





angst (uncountable)

  1. A feeling of acute but vague anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression, especially philosophical anxiety.
  2. More commonly, painful sadness or emotional turmoil, as teen angst.

Derived terms


to angst

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to angst (third-person singular simple present angsts, present participle angsting, simple past and past participle angsted)

  1. (informal) To suffer angst; to fret.
    • 2001, Joseph P Natoli, Postmodern Journeys: Film and Culture, 1996-1998
      In the second scene, the camera switches to the father listening, angsting, dying inside, but saying nothing.
    • 2006, Liz Ireland, Three Bedrooms in Chelsea
      She'd never angsted so much about her head as she had in the past twenty-four hours. Why the hell hadn't she just left it alone?


  • Wikipedia-logo.png angst on Wikipedia.Wikipedia
  • angst” in The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
  • angst” in Unabridged, v1.0.1, Lexico Publishing Group, 2006.
  • "angst" in WordNet 3.0, Princeton University, 2006.





  1. afraid, anxious, alarmed


angst c. (singular definite angsten, not used in plural form)

  1. fear, alarm, apprehension, dread
  2. anxiety
  3. angst



angst m. (plural angsten, diminutive angstje, diminutive plural angstjes)

  1. fear, angst, anxiety


Related terms



From Low German, related to anger.


angst m. (definite singular angsten; uncountable)

  1. (singulare tantum) angst

Derived terms


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