How does “angry” differ from “indignant”?

One of the numerous presidential candidates already stumping the country has declared that he and his supporters are “not angry, but indignant.”

I’ve been trying to find a significant difference in meaning between these synonyms for “feeling wrathful.”

I suppose one difference might be that one can be angry over anything. For example, my ex-husband would become angry if the towels in the linen cupboard weren’t folded to suit him.

The adjective indignant, on the other hand, refers to anger provoked by something unworthy or unjust. Like being abused for folding towels “incorrectly.”

According to one of the definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary, indignant carries the connotation of “an emotion of anger mingled with scorn or contempt.”

So, I suppose that the candidate in question might mean that he and his supporters are not merely angry, but are at the same time angry and contemptuous of whatever it is that is making them angry.

In the cause of precision in language, I think that a more appropriate soundbite would be “we are not only angry, but also indignant.”

3 Responses

  1. No he was right in the first place, you don’t need to rephrase it as “not merely angry but also indignant” because indignant already includes angry as part of its meaning. As you say: “The adjective indignant, on the other hand, refers to anger provoked by something unworthy or unjust.”

    Anger carries an irrational or overly emotional connotation, whereas indignation implies justification for said anger. In saying “not angry, but indignant” phrase the politician is obviously communicating that his supporters are not being irrational or overly emotional and are justified to be angry about whatever it is they’re angry about.

    Trying to change it to say “angry AND indignant” seems like an attempt to bring some of that irrationality back into it.

  2. Just as a matter of interest, ‘indignation’ used to connote ‘rightous indignation’ because that was the phrase where one most often ran across it. In your example of the towel-folding, the indignant person must have felt they were an authority on the subject, clearly a moral issue, and therefore right to be indignant. Nowt so queer as folk, eh?

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