Fears & Anxieties V
Bill Long 2/18/07
Mocking the Phobias--in the 19th/20th Centuries
Before showing how the other 14 fears and anxieties appeared in English, mostly in the late 19th century, I would like to point out how even before phobias began to multiply we had people just making up "phobias" to poke fun at our tendency to invent them without end. For example, from 1803 we have: "He is a very laconic personage, and has upon him the penphobia" (ripple of laughter, please..). Or, from a magazine article in 1824, "She laboured uner a perpetual dustphobia; and a comical disease it was." From 1843 is "That powerful..writer..depicts the same regiphobia as raging among the Parisian Charlatanerie." Then, later in the 19th century, we have a reference in the Pall Mall Gazette: "Confounding it with 'Germanophobia,' 'Francophobia,' or as many 'phobias' as you like!" A few years later (1896) the Westminster Gazette commented on how the cycling craze had "produced the antagonistic disease of cyclophobia." Aldous Huxley got into the act in 1928 when he spoke of his epistolophobia, and the derisory talk of phobias crossed the Atlantic in 1978 when the NY Times had an advertisement saying the following: "Swim-o-phobia? Cure it forever. Our private lessons by professional instructors will have you phobia-free and swimming in no time."
Fourteen Other "Serious" and "Classic" Phobias
I described twelve classic phobias in an earlier essay. Let's now describe the other 14, in chronological order.
1. Psychrophobia first entered our vocabulary in 1727 and means "a Fear of, or an Aversion to cold Things." Actually the prefix psychro is, in Augustine's phrase, a fruitful mother of children, because we have a psychrometer, originally a thermometer but now an instrument measuring relative humidity; psychrophore (an instrument for applying cold to the urethra), psychrotechny (the art of distillation by means of cold) and, most amusingly, psychrolute, a person who bathes in open air through the winter. Beginning in the mid-19th century there were societies of psychrolutes. There is now a fish called a psychrolute. As with many other good things, so with psychrophobia; sometime in the mid to late 20th century someone came up with such unnecessary synonyms as cryophobia and frigophobia. Let's move on.
2. Phonophobia today means an aversion to loud noises, esp. as a symptom of migrane headaches, but its original meaning (1841) was the "fear of speaking." From 1841: "The peculiar physical horror which constitutes a stutterer, and which is excited by the effort to speak, is very similar to that which gives rise to the excitement and spasm of the hydrophobic patient at the sight of water. This internal movement might, on that account, be called phonophobia." Two other, late 20th century, terms for the fear of stuttering are psellophobia and laliophobia. Of course, the 20th century terms are completely unnecessary and are not attested in any dictionary that I have found.
3. A pathophobia, word coined in 1873, is a morbid dread of disease; hypochondria. From 1873: "The name hypochondriasis.. has very little significance indicating the character..of the affection. The name pathophobia is much more expressive."
4 & 5. From 1879, that banner year of phobias, we have two more new ones: cynophobia and mysophobia. I have talked about the latter (fear of dirt) in some detail; the former means the "fear of dogs." It is interesting that the word cynophilist, a "lover" of dogs, was not coined until 1890; you would think that someone would have loved them before he feared them. But, when do you think that the adage "a man's best friend is his dog" originated anyway? I don't know, but I am taking suggestions. It still is true today, as my groundskeeper told me the other day. His dog Gus is his best friend. Before leaving the interesting word "cyno" we should note that the Century, but not the OED, has the words "cynolyssa," meaning "mad from the bite of a dog"--canine madness or rabies, and cynorexia--which is an insatiable, voracious appetite, like that of a dog. Actually, a synonym which the Century gave for cynorexia is bulimia. Cynorexia has died out while bulimia has had a huge comeback in the last 20 years. The word bulimia is derived from bous (ox--which means, figuratively, great) and limos (hunger)--thus "hungry as an ox." We could go on forever, but let's move on.
6. From 1883 we have a word not used anymore: phthisiophobia. It means an irrational or exaggerated fear of tuberculosis. Every spelling bee in which I have been a part has a "phthisis-type" word, such as phthisis or phthisic, and so it is a useful word to know, even if it reflects the realities of 19th century knowledge much more than today's.
7. Ochlophobia (1885) means fear or aversion to crowds. As mentioned earlier, we have invented two other useless synonyms for it, enochlophobia and demophobia in the last few decades. There are loads of "ochlo-type" words in English. If you remember that its basic meaning is a "crowd," though, you shan't go astray.
8. Nosophobia remains a very useful term. Coined in 1889, it means a fear of disease. The term was first introduced in the Lancet in 1889: "Nosophobia is certainly much more frequent in man, probably because women act as nurses, and consequently have no fear of infection." Is that true? Nosocomephobia is a fear of hospitals (A nosocome is an English word borrowed from the French, meaning "hospital"). No dictionary has the word, but I think I will lobby for it in the future.
9. & 10 & 11. Pyrophobia (1890) is a morbid fear of fires; Nyctophobia (1892) is a fear of the night; and bacteriophobia (1894) is, as its name suggests, a fear of bacteria.
12. Ailurophobia (1905) is a morbid fear of cats. We have a literary usage from 1905: "Finding a lady, rather ailurophobic, in a low dress at dinner Tippoo suddenly leaped up and alighted on her neck. He was never so friendly with non-ailurophobes." You would think that since dogs are man's best friend, that we would have only developed cynophobia after the development of ailurophobia, but such is not the case. Why would anyone be scared of cats? They may be inconvenient, pesky and intrusive, but frightening? Well, I am glad we have the word. The word ailurophile, however, didn't enter into our language until 1931. Figure that out. Oh, we now have words such as gatophobia, galeophobia, felinophobia, and aelurophobia (variant spelling of ailurophobia). Any reason to have them all, except perhaps to "sell" the phobia more effectively?
13 & 14. Xenophobia (1909) means a fear of strangers or outsiders. Triskadekaphobia (1911) is now used in most spelling bees. It means a morbid fear of the number 13. The latest word they have discovered relating to this, however, is paraskavedekatriaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th), though this word can also be spelled a few ways. I wonder if the US is becoming more xenophobic as a result of 9/11...
Well, this is more than enough to whet your interest not only in developing an understanding of fears, but also in sharpening your Greek and Latin-root understanding. Let's now turn to some of the "modern" phobias, laughing as we go.