Q&A: Throws vs throes

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.

A: Indeed.

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?

A: 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!

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