The word agony was first used in English in a late fourteenth-century translation of the Bible by theologian John Wycliffe, with the spelling agonye. It seems that Wycliffe borrowed the word directly from Latin agonia, which had the same definition. That comes from an Ancient Greek noun also sounding like agonia but meaning "struggle" or "competition" (the connection was that agony was considered a kind of mental struggle). The root in agonia is agon, meaning "competition" (also the etymon of protagonist and antagonist) and ultimately deriving from the Proto-Indo-European root ag, "to draw out" or "move". Usage of the word agony in literature over time has been steadily declining since a peak in the late 1860s.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.