agony aunt

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agony aunt

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Oct 24, 2012 6:34 am

What did they think she was? A private detective? An agony aunt? Or simply a friend?”—The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith, page 16>
Never heard of it. But since the author is British, . . .

The Oxford English Dictionary lists and defines agony aunt, but Wikipedia’s discussion is more comprehensive.
An advice column is a column in a magazine or newspaper written by an advice columnist (colloquially known in British English as an agony aunt [[(also agony auntie) who writes an agony column]], or agony uncle if the columnist is a male. The image presented was originally of an older woman providing comforting advice and maternal wisdom, hence the name ‘aunt.’ An advice columnist can also be someone who gives advice to people who send in problems to the newspaper.
Also “A column of a newspaper that contains personal advertisements, especially for missing relatives or friends or for new relationships.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

The ‘agony’ refers to the suffering of the supplicant who seeks a columnist’s or person’s advice. Well known advice columnists (agony aunts) in the U.S. include Dear Abby and Ann Landers.

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
< 1854 “In time, . . . it would be as much sought after, and as eagerly read, as the ‘agony column’ of the Times.”—The Courier (Dundee, Scotland, 28 March, page 50/3>

<1972 “Pleas for help from young and old made to ‘agony aunties’ of magazines and newspapers, show that our established welfare institutions often fail to meet a personal, intimate human need.”—The Times (London), 17 April, page 3/1>

<1984 “I can't go on like this. I have written to Auntie Clara, the Agony Aunt.”—The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by S. Townsend, page 19>

<1997 “The received wisdom, recounted ad nauseam in the agony columns of magazines and the annals of social research, is that divorce is cruel to children.”—Sunday Times (London), (News Review Section), 26 October, page 6/3>

<2010 “In her one-woman show, agony aunt Virginia Ironside says grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your children.”—Daily Telegraph (London), 8 June, page 21/2>

<2012 (headline) “ I Haven't Handed over a Paedophile to the Police - Because He's a Friend of the Family; from a Leading Agony Aunt, an Explosive Confession.”—The Mail on Sunday (London, England), 21 October>

Ken G – October 23, 2012

Re: agony aunt

Post by PhilHunt » Wed Oct 24, 2012 11:23 am

Ken, Agony Aunt is a very common noun combination in Britain.
The Agony Aunt column was always a favourite of housewives. I don't know if they still run such things, but, to get an idea of what they are, think of Uma Thurman's character in the Accidental Husband. She played a talk radio host who would dish out advice about marriages and relationships to agonized listeners. Transfer that onto the printed page and that is what an Agony Aunt does.
Signature: That which we cannot speak of, must be passed over in silence...or else tweeted.

Re: agony aunt

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Oct 24, 2012 9:33 pm

Sherlock Holmes was always reading or posting messages to the personal-ad type of agony column in connection with his investigations. This was my first encounter with the expression, and I remember thinking then what an odd-sounding term it was.

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