gnaw

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gnaw (at) (someone's) vitals

To greatly or deeply trouble someone; to affect in someone an intense feeling of anguish or despair. Seeing the suffering of so many people overseas gnawed at her vitals day and night, so she decided to join the Red Cross so she could finally help in some way.
See also: gnaw

gnaw (away) at someone

Fig. to worry someone; to create constant anxiety in someone. The thought of catching some horrible disease gnawed away at her. A lot of guilt gnawed at him day and night.
See also: gnaw

gnaw (away) at someone or something

Lit. to chew at someone or something. I hear a mouse gnawing away at the wall. The mosquitoes are gnawing at me something awful.
See also: gnaw

gnaw on something

to chew on something. (Usually said of an animal.) The puppy has been gnawing on my slippers! This slipper has been gnawed on!
See also: gnaw, on

gnaw at

v.
1. To bite or chew on something, removing small pieces of it a bit at a time: The mice gnawed at the corner of the box until they had made a small hole in it.
2. To cause someone or something to have or feel persistent discomfort, anxiety, or guilt: His harsh criticism gnawed at me the rest of the day. Hunger was gnawing at my stomach.
See also: gnaw

gnaw away

v.
1. To bite or chew something a bit at a time: The fox gnawed the tough meat away first, and then bit into the bone.
2. To bite or chew on something repeatedly in order to grind it down or to remove small pieces from it a bit at a time: The kids gnawed away at the cobs of fresh corn. That dog will gnaw away at that bone until it gets to the marrow inside.
3. To cause someone or something to have or feel persistent discomfort, anxiety, or guilt: Dark thoughts gnawed away at my mind.
See also: away, gnaw

gnaw on

v.
1. To bite or chew on something, either without eating it or removing small pieces of it a bit at a time: The dog has been gnawing on that bone for days.
2. To cause someone or something to have or feel persistent discomfort, anxiety, or guilt: Unpleasant dreams gnawed on me all night and I couldn't sleep.
See also: gnaw, on
References in classic literature ?
I did not want to wake Harris a second time, but the gnawing continued until I was compelled to throw the other shoe.
When Roderick Elliston regained entire sensibility, it was to find his misfortune the town talk--the more than nine days' wonder and horror--while, at his bosom, he felt the sickening motion of a thing alive, and the gnawing of that restless fang which seemed to gratify at once a physical appetite and a fiendish spite.
First trip and therefore in the nature of a trial trip; and I can't overcome a certain gnawing emotion, for it is a trip that MUSTN'T fail.
At six months, I caught him gnawing a pack of cards.
They were reckoning him as certain, but with her it was a gnawing solicitude never appeased for five minutes together.
It was like the sound which a mouse makes when it is gnawing a plank, and I lay listening to it for some time under the impression that it must come from that cause.
We do not toy with sharp swords nor hug a gnawing fox to our breast for choice.
Bredin himself, the owner of the Parisian Cafe; and it was this circumstance which first gave Paul the opportunity of declaring the passion which was gnawing him with the fierce fury of a Bredin customer gnawing a tough steak against time during the rush hour.
What is this gnawing of conscience I am feeling now?
Then he bent down and began gnawing the shaft of the arrow with his teeth.
Look how I have lived and thriven, with the heart-ache gnawing at me at home, and the winds of the icy north whistling round me here
For so John Barleycorn tricks and lures, setting the maggots of intelligence gnawing, whispering his fatal intuitions of truth, flinging purple passages into the monotony of one's days.
But a greater grief than the loss of the launch could have engendered in me, filled my heart--a sullen, gnawing misery which I tried to deny--which I refused to admit--but which persisted in obsessing me until my heart rose and filled my throat, and I could not speak when I would have uttered words of reassurance to my companions.
In one well-marked instance, I put the comb back into the hive, and allowed the bees to go on working for a short time, and again examined the cell, and I found that the rhombic plate had been completed, and had become perfectly flat: it was absolutely impossible, from the extreme thinness of the little rhombic plate, that they could have effected this by gnawing away the convex side; and I suspect that the bees in such cases stand in the opposed cells and push and bend the ductile and warm wax (which as I have tried is easily done) into its proper intermediate plane, and thus flatten it.
It is remarkable that a single mouse should thus be allowed a whole pine tree for its dinner, gnawing round instead of up and down it; but perhaps it is necessary in order to thin these trees, which are wont to grow up densely.