What is your working definition of annoying, and how do you think it differs from frustration or agitation ?

FL: I think we had a lot of trouble with that because the people we talked to — the experts, who study different emotions — disagreed about what it was. Some thought it was low-level rage, others likened it to frustration. But one thing we agreed on: what differentiated it from anger is that you don’t top out as high with annoyance.

JP: Clearly there’s overlap with a lot of the things you’re describing. There’s disgust, there’s irritation, there’s frustration. We were trying to come up with a definition that would help differentiate it from that: we call it the “Three U’s.” First of all, it’s unpleasant. That’s sort of a catch-all because that’s where there’s so much individual difference: some people just don’t feel so bothered by fingernail clipping — probably the person who is clipping his nails doesn’t feel like he’s bothering anybody. So there’s this huge category of things that we don’t like — not dangerous, not life threatening, but unpleasant.

Another “u” is unexpected, in the sense that you don’t really have control over it and you don’t know when it’s going to happen. You might think that your subway ride will be unencumbered by somebody taking care of personal hygiene, but sometimes it isn’t and so you’re sort of stuck with that.

And then the third thing is you don’t know when it’s going to end, and that’s really an interesting component of annoyance. If this [nail clipping] person were unfortunate enough to have only one finger, you’d be satisfied that the nail clipping wouldn’t take that long. But with ten, it can go on and on as Flora says, for an unbelievably long time. That uncertain duration seems to add to the quality of what makes something annoying.

Now there are certain things that are just annoying on the face of it like, for example, you’re instantly annoyed by somebody’s voice or your instantly annoyed by somebody spitting on the sidewalk (if that’s one of your annoyances). So you can be annoyed without having something go on for an uncertain amount of time, but once it starts going on for an uncertain amount of time, then you run the risk of what Flora has termed “terminal annoyance.” That’s when you’re not only annoyed with what you’re annoyed at, but you’re annoyed with yourself for being annoyed. And that leads to a death spiral. There’s this feedback loop and we’ve heard unsubstantiated reports that people’s heads have exploded. But we haven’t been able to confirm that — it just seems like it would happen.
(“What Annoys You ? An Examination of the Little Things That Drive Us Bananas” , Meredith Melnick)

C’est dur d’expliquer à l’amour de sa vie que chaque fois qu’elle mâche bruyamment son chewing-gum à proximité de moi elle risque sa vie pendant une fraction de seconde… le temps de se dire qu’après il sera difficile de plaider son cas devant une Cour d’assisses.