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Could you please what the meaning of "punch to the gut" is?

The text is here:

Two hours later Dad had blocked off half the kitchen with plywood sheets. The owl convalesced there for several weeks. We trapped mice to feed it, but sometimes it didn’t eat them, and we couldn’t clear away the carcasses. The smell of death was strong and foul, a punch to the gut.

Educated Tara Westover

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A punch to the gut (or sometimes called gut-punch or emotional gut punch) is pretty much synonymous with something that is gut-wrenching, which is easier to find in dictionaries. Collins says that gut-wrenching events or experiences make you feel very sad or upset.

TFD lists a related idiom, kick in the gut, and defines it as a severe blow to one's body or spirit.

A 2011 book by Dixon & Adamson says:

It's meant to be a real gut punch — a rational argument designed to evoke an emotional reaction.

The word guts is an interesting word in English; it has several meanings, one of which is “an innermost emotional response” (see Wordnik, for example). So a punch (or kick) in the guts is something that affects you strongly in an emotional sense.

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It is a figurative use. The effect of the odor was overpowering, having the force of a punch to the abdomen. It "takes your breath away".

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