Think of a day in your life.

How often do you feel angry?

How often happy?

How often just irritated?

Being angry is like having mumps, the philosopher J.L Austin wrote. His book, “How… Continue Reading…

What bugs you?

Think of a day in your life.

How often do you feel angry?

How often happy?

How often just irritated?

Being angry is like having mumps, the philosopher J.L Austin wrote. His book, “How to do Things with Words”, remains a classic of linguistic philosophy. Austin was right as many people find it hard to hide their anger just as they find it hard to hide mumps.  There are exceptions which therapists know well; some people repress their anger though philosophers sometimes don’t as Wittgenstein once attacked Karl Popper physically during a discussion in Oxford.

Freud would not have been surprised. In 1932 the League of Nations asked him and Einstein to collaborate on a short book on how to avoid war. In “Why War”, Freud argued our anger was built into our biology and doubted one could find any peaceful peoples on earth. If such folk existed, he would like to have their address.

Irritation is not anger but also not unlike anger. There is much literature on the latter but almost none on irritation which intuitively seems to be a kind of diluted anger. It is not so intense, usually does not last as long and is far easier to shrug off.

I don’t think I’ve been angry once in the last three months. But I am often irritated. I was irritated recently at my bank because there was only one cashier – and give of us were queuing/ Two assistance wandered about with tablets hung from their necks; this technology did not allow them to help customers. A customer in the queue ahead of me simply had a paying in book she needed stamped and was steaming with irritation.

“I’m just doing my job,” the bank assistant defended, and his job meant he had to hang around, ask customers what they needed and then do zilch.

“I’m just trying to do my job,” the woman said, “and you’re making it impossible.”

Those of us listening to this exchange grew more and more irritated. Finally the bank clerk sat on the counter.

“This isn’t my job,” he said.

“Can you do it,” she said.

“I’ll try if you don’t shout at me.”

“I’m not shouting,” shouted the woman.

Irritation had become anger.

Remarkably, perhaps even irritatingly, the British Library catalogue has only 6 entries on this subject. They mainly concern dental irritation which Freud said was linked to masturbation. I try to repress this thought when I go to the dentist.

Six entries suggest more work is needed so here goes. When I started a little magazine called Psychology News in 1979, I reported a study by E.J Dearnley, a psychologist in Manchester, who carried a timer that buzzed every hour. He noted what he was doing so he could see how much of his time was spent working, how much keeping himself spruced up and how much in leisure, which was usually devoted to drinking pints in his local.

In August I decided to copy Dearnley and start a study of irritation. Some instances may help.

For example, you turn up on time at the G.P and have to wait 30 minutes to be seen.

You can’t find a cab and then when you do, the driver wants to chat. Yes, he did have Boris Johnson in the back of his cab once.

Your partner is too tired to go shopping so you trudge to the local 24/7 to pick up mustard. They don’t have Dijon. As expected, she is irritated when you deliver mere English.

I wrote to The Psychologist and asked for volunteers to keep diaries of what irritated them. In the end some 30 did and are providing diaries of what irritate them each week.

I now urge readers to keep their own diaries and contact me at

Anonymity guaranteed, and your help will be key in what turns out to be a study of an under researched issue.


This post has been submitted by David Cohen.

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