The word stress is about pressure, whether it's pressure on a syllable of a word (TRAIN-er versus train-EE), an object (the bridge is designed to handle the stress of the cars), or a person (I am under a lot of stress).

It says something about our culture, how much we love to use the word stress and keep redefining it to mean new things. The word first appeared in about 1300, when it meant hardship or a force to which someone is subjected. In the 1890s, we stretched the meaning to include "emphasizing something" and, in the middle of the 20th century, started to associate it with psychological pressure.

Definitions of stress

n special emphasis attached to something

“the stress was more on accuracy than on speed”
Type of:
accent, emphasis
special importance or significance

n the relative prominence of a syllable or musical note (especially with regard to stress or pitch)

“he put the stress on the wrong syllable”
accent, emphasis
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the use or application of an accent; the relative prominence of syllables in a phrase or utterance
pitch accent, tonic accent
emphasis that results from pitch rather than loudness
word accent, word stress
the distribution of stresses within a polysyllabic word
sentence stress
the distribution of stresses within a sentence
Type of:
inflection, prosody
the patterns of stress and intonation in a language

n (physics) force that produces strain on a physical body

“the intensity of stress is expressed in units of force divided by units of area”
(physics) a stress that produces an elongation of an elastic physical body
breaking point
the degree of tension or stress at which something breaks
Type of:
(physics) the influence that produces a change in a physical quantity

n (psychology) a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense

stress is a vasoconstrictor”
tenseness, tension
nervous tension that causes an athlete to fail (especially causes golfers to miss short putts)
breaking point
(psychology) stress at which a person breaks down or a situation becomes crucial
Type of:
mental strain, nervous strain, strain
(psychology) nervousness resulting from mental stress

n difficulty that causes worry or emotional tension

“"he presided over the economy during the period of the greatest stress and danger"- R.J.Samuelson”
Type of:
a condition or state of affairs almost beyond one's ability to deal with and requiring great effort to bear or overcome

v to stress, single out as important

accent, accentuate, emphasise, emphasize, punctuate
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background, downplay, play down
understate the importance or quality of
bring out, set off
direct attention to, as if by means of contrast
re-emphasise, re-emphasize
emphasize anew
bear down
pay special attention to
emphasize by putting heavy stress on or by moving to the front of the sentence
point up
emphasize, especially by identification
drive home, press home, ram home
make clear by special emphasis and try to convince somebody of something
emphasise, emphasize, underline, underscore
give extra weight to (a communication)
pick up
lift out or reflect from a background
wave off
dismiss as insignificant
foreground, highlight, play up, spotlight
move into the foreground to make more visible or prominent
bring (a surface or a design) into relief and cause to project
play down or obscure
Type of:
evince, express, show
give expression to

v put stress on; utter with an accent

accent, accentuate
Type of:
articulate, enounce, enunciate, pronounce, say, sound out
speak, pronounce, or utter in a certain way

v test the limits of

strain, try
stretch to the limits
Type of:
cause great unhappiness for; distress

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