Does it irritate you when people use aggravate when they mean annoy? Or are you just confused about the correct use of these two words?
Aggravate comes from Latin, and if you look carefully you’ll see its root—grave. The original meaning was to make heavy or increase the burden. Over the years the meaning and usage morphed into meaning “to make worse or more serious,” or “to intensify.”
- The spicy chili aggravated Malcolm’s colitis.
But aggravate can also mean annoy or exasperate—synonyms for irritate. In fact, that meaning came into use about the same time as the previous meaning.
Some purists maintain that using aggravate to mean anything other than to worsen blurs its distinctive meaning. Others argue that the use of aggravate to indicate a worsening of one’s temper is a legitimate use of the word.
- Eleanor was irritated by the incessant elevator music.
- The incessant elevator music was an aggravation (annoyance) to Eleanor.
Either sentence is correct. Writers, be sure the word you use conveys your intended meaning. Understand that aggravate means worsen, and be careful about using it as a synonym for irritate.
I hope I didn’t irritate you with this explanation. I would hate to aggravate your stress!