Grammar

Pains or Pangs: How Hungry Are You?

When you’re writing about the sensation of being hungry, is it properly referred to as hunger pains or pangs? Here’s something to chew on.

Ever heard of an “eggcorn?”

It’s defined as a word or phrase resulting from someone either mishearing or misunderstanding a different word or phrase. The eggcorn becomes a case of “close but no cigar.”

An example of an eggcorn might be “all intensive purposes” instead of “all intents and purposes.”

When it comes to hunger, there’s a popular eggcorn as well. One of these is correct and the other is the aforementioned eggcorn:

hunger pains
hunger pangs

So when you’re feeling your stomach growling and you’re caught up in a serious food craving, which one are you experiencing?

The most applicable definition of pain is “physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.” And that’s where it gets tricky. Hunger is neither illness nor injury, but we experience pain at times though we’re not technically “ill” or injured.

Some people actually do experience a kind of pain when they’ve gone too long without eating: I know people who get headaches when they wait too long to eat. For others, the pain is right in the gut, and this is where things begin to get a bit tricky.

The definition of pang is “a sudden sharp pain or painful emotion.”

So it is possible to experience a kind of “pain” from hunger:

When hunger contractions start to occur in the stomach, they are informally referred to as hunger pangs. Hunger pangs usually do not begin until 12 to 24 hours after the last ingestion of food.

The term for “hunger contractions” is hunger pangs.

Yes, if pang means pain, then “hunger pains” should be just as accurate. But people who are more familiar with the proper way to say it will assume you’ve made an error if you choose “hunger pains,” so the accuracy of what you write and your reputation of the moment is likely better served if you choose hunger pangs from the start.

When is the last time you experienced genuine hunger pangs?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.