Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we’re catching up on game of throes…
Q: Hi AWC, I’m excited about watching the new season of Game of Thrones.
A: Yes, you’ll be dying to see all those people die in new and exciting ways.
Q: I know! I’m in the throws of ecstasy just thinking about it.
A: Throws? You mean throes.
Q: Throes? You mean like tomatoes or potatoes? No way.
A: Yes way. It sounds like it might be time to play the GAME OF THROES…
Q: Duh duh, dada duh duh, dee dee duh duh, dada duh duh, dum dum dahhhhhhh….
A: When you’re ready.
Q: Sorry, was just getting prepared with the theme tune.
A: Yes okay.
Q: Can we at least link to the opening credits? I love watching those pointy sticks pop up and the cogs turn.
A: Alright, yes sure.
Q: Bah bah baba bah bah bahhhhhh…
A: Anyway. Clearly “throws” is the plural of the verb “throw” – that one is rather obvious.
Q: Yes it is.
A: “Throw” has been around since the days of castles and kings – the very early Middle Ages, 14th century.
Q: That’s quite the throwback Thursday.
Q: But what of “throes”? Is it the rightful heir to the title?
A: Yes it is.
Q: But why, pray tell?
A: Because one of the origins of “throw” was Old English “thrawan” – meaning to writhe, twist or turn, and “throwe” meaning the agony of death – particularly in childbirth.
Q: Did you say death during childbirth and rightful heir?
A: Well you said the bit about the heir.
Q: Hmmm interesting… #towerofjoy #spoilers
A: Anyway, the word “throe” emerged from this pang of pain and suffering. And around the 17th century we got “throes”.
Q: Wait. Are you saying that “throe” is still a word?
A: Only technically – just as a plural needs its singular. However, you’ll always be directed to the plural “throes” – which Macquarie Dictionary defines as “any violent convulsion or struggle”. For example, “death throes” or the “throes of childbirth”. It’s impossible to have just one “throe” – hence defaulting to plural all the time.
Q: That’s like me and Tim Tams. Impossible to have just one. Always plural.
A: Yes, something like that.
Q: But all this childbirth and agony and death. What about how I used it? Or when someone is in the “the throes of passion”?
A: Ahh, good point. When you wade through all the calamity and writhing, there is also the idiomatic phrase “in the throes of” – which Macquarie Dictionarydefines separately as “engaged in” or “fully preoccupied with”.
Q: That’s in stark contrast to the other meaning.
A: It depends on the context. You can be in the throes of a civil war or the throes of a storm, both of which would still be violent . But yes, it could be the throes of something more pleasant too.
Q: I’d bet my little finger that it’s not just me getting “throws” and “throes” wrong.
A: A safe bet. It’s a common mistake.
Q: When you play the game of throes, you win or you die.
A: Well you win over grammar purists or you die of embarrassment.
Q: Yes, close enough. So when Game of Thrones character Queen Cersei “throws a tantrum” you could also say she’s “in the throes of anger”, yes?
Q: Okay big finish time. Bum bum bah dah bum bum bah dah bum bum…
A: There certainly are a lot of bums on Game of Thrones…
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!