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What is a Worry Wart?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Some people can be especially neurotic or nervous by nature, living out their lives in a state of excessive worry. These obsessive concerns may either be global or amazingly minor in scope. Such a person is often said to be a worry wart, also rendered as worrywart or worry-wart in some literary references. A worry wart's fears are generally viewed by others as irrational or completely out of proportion to the actual situation.

A worry wart in an office environment, for example, may spend most of his or her time fretting over getting laid off or fired. While the actual chances of a worrier actually becoming unemployed may be remote at best, a neurotic employee often seeks out advice from co-workers on how to handle his or her inevitable dismissal. Others may worry excessively about job performance or customer complaints or minor conflicts with their superiors.

A parent described as a worrier may have irrational fears about their children's safety, causing him or her to take elaborate security steps in order to overprotect a child. News reports of a distant tragedy involving a child may cause a worry wart to install a security fence around the entire yard or to forbid a child from leaving the home at all without close supervision. What may constitute a minor childhood injury to some parents may represent a major medical emergency to a worrier.

The origins of the idiom worry wart are shrouded in etymological mystery, unfortunately. Some sources suggest the phrase was first used to describe exceptionally neurotic residents of mental hospitals in a handbook dating from 1956. Others believe the description was first used as the name of a character in a 1950s comic strip called Out Our Way. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, the phrase worry wart was already in the popular slang vernacular long before either of those publications appeared.

Some may also use the description Nervous Nellie to describe a highly strung individual with neurotic tendencies. Most chronic worriers can still function normally in society, although others may become very aware of their tendency to overreact upon receiving minor bad news or to obsess over small details instead of grasping the bigger picture of a troubling situation.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By turquoise — On Nov 09, 2013

The original meaning of worry wart was someone who made others worry. Now it refers to someone who annoys others by constantly worrying over things.

By bear78 — On Nov 08, 2013

@SarahGen-- Have you thought about seeing a therapist or a counselor?

We all go through phases in our life where we're anxious and worried. But if it becomes excessive, it's harmful. It's bad for psychology and self-esteem. It will also affect your work and productivity negatively. People don't exactly enjoy being around a worry wort either, so it's also bad for social life.

My advice to you is stop worrying and start living! You can't predict the future and whatever happens is for the best.

By SarahGen — On Nov 07, 2013

I'm afraid I'm a worry wart. I worry too much. I constantly think about possibilities of what may go wrong. Everything seems so difficult.

I know that this is a terrible way to live life. I don't enjoy being anxious and stressed all the time either. But I can't seem to control it. I don't know how to be any other way.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick


As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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