Not a day passes by where we don’t see something bad happening in the world on the news. Whether it’s the main story on the 6 o'clock news, on the front pages of the morning newspaper, or as soon as we log on to our social media accounts.


Unfortunately, as the world has opened itself up due to the Internet boom (great success, or rapid growth), it has also given us an insight into the trials and tribulations (difficult experiences) of countries and people around the world. We regularly see violence, political turmoil, famine, and war happening around the world. As distressing as it may be to watch and read about these kinds of events, it is also important that we know these events are happening, that they are being reported on, and that we have the chance to help in any way possible. Remember, we can always petition (to appeal or request) our government and hassle (to constantly ask) our local politicians to do something about it!


In order to be able to talk about these topics with proficiency, while at the same time, being compassionate, it is necessary to have the right vocabulary to do so. It is difficult sometimes to express our true feelings and ideas about these terrible events that we see on the news, but with the right word, we can alleviate (reduce) some of that difficultness. Here is a list of eight words that can help you describe such events.


The Vocabulary



1. Dire


‘Dire’ can be used to describe something that is very severe or serious:


  • “News reports say that since the storm hit the situation has become very dire.”
  • “Refugees are arriving in dire need of food and water.”



2. Appalling


If something is ‘appalling’, it is highly unpleasant and shocking:


  • “The appalling conditions in the camp must be improved.”
  • “The way the family was treated in detention was appalling.”



3. Harrowing


The word ‘harrowing’ can be used when something is extremely worrying, upsetting, or frightening:


  • “Being in a war-zone is a harrowing experience.”
  • “I have such harrowing dreams about what happened.”



4. Disturbing


‘Disturbing’ is used as a synonym for troubling or upsetting:


  • “I found the article deeply disturbing.”
  • “Some scenes may be disturbing to some viewers.”



5. Frightful


When an event or scene is intensely serious or unpleasant to watch, we can use the word ‘frightful’:


  • “There’s been a most frightful accident.”
  • “The streets were a frightful mess of concrete and trees.”



6. Abhorrent


Used in extreme cases, ‘abhorrent’ is a severe adjective used to describe something that is disgusting or immoral:


  • “Racism is an abhorrent part of society.”
  • “His actions were abhorrent, and now he’s in jail for what he did.”



7. Ghastly


If something causes great horror or fear, we use the word ‘ghastly’:


  • “She had a ghastly expression on her face.”
  • “The crimes of this government were ghastly.”



8. Atrocious


An evil or cruel act, ‘atrocious’ is used to describe the worst types of crimes (and even genocide). Conversely, it can be used to say that something was of a very poor quality:


  • “The weather in this country is always atrocious.”



On a side note

In some cases, we can use the above words a little differently. It is very commonplace to see the following used in newspaper articles and TV news bulletins.


  • “Refugees are arriving in dire need of food and water.”


When people are ‘in dire need of’ something, it means that they are in need of immediate help, and it could be classed as an emergency. It’s not only people who can be in dire need of something, animals too can be in dire need. For example elephants are in dire need of protection against poachers in some countries. The environment, also, can be in dire need of protection against harmful waste or pollution.


  • “I found the article deeply disturbing.”


Quite often we see the adverb ‘deeply’ used before the word disturbing. Many events can be described as being deeply disturbing.


  • “There has been a most frightful accident.”


Using the word ‘most’ before an adjective is a very sophisticated, and perhaps a fairly formal, way to explain how frightful, how wonderful, how strange an experience or event was.


  • The atrocities of WWII will be remembered in the service.”


We can switch from using the adjective ‘atrocious’ to using the noun ‘atrocity’ to describe certain events, multiple or singular. To give you more examples, take a look at these:


  • “This atrocity will live long in the memory.”
  • “Nobody will be able to forget the atrocities that occurred here last year.”



To conclude


Unfortunately, it won’t be too long until you next see a distressing story in the newspapers, on social media, or on TV. However, you can now use the new vocabulary you’ve gained to help you speak about such events with your friends, family, colleagues, and strangers; all the while not being stuck to find the right words to express your opinions and feelings.


Hero image by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash