a thousand and one
HOWARD (the intrepid)
Richler is the author of several books on language including
The Dead Sea Scroll Palindromes, Take My Words and
Strange Bedfellows: The Private Lives of Words. He
also publishes a blog.
His next book, From Happy to Homosexual and Other Mysterious
Semantic Shifts, will be published next spring.
score years ago minus one, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared,
“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” Well,
it appears Roosevelt was wrong. The site phobialist.com lists
over 500 phobias that might plague someone. Some of these phobias
aren’t widespread, such as cherophobia (the fear of gaiety),
leukophobia (the fear of the colour white), geniophobia (the
fear of chins) and genuphobia (the fear of knees). Moreover,
one suspects that with a fear like arachibutyrophobia (the fear
that peanut butter will adhere to the root of your mouth) and
hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (the fear of long words)
there is more neology at play than psychology.
ago I was convinced that my wheaten terrier suffered from automatonophobia
because he once barked at a scarecrow. The aforementioned list
defines this condition as “the fear of ventriloquist dummies,
wax statues, anything that falsely represents a sentient being.”
I was made aware of this condition thanks to an article I had
just read in Time magazine about phobias. This article
also highlighted a woman who wore rubber-soled shoes when opening
a refrigerator and in the event of a light bulb not functioning
would wait hours for someone to change it for her. Nor could
she shop for clothes lest static on garments impel her to run
screaming from a shop. Also swimming at night was out of the
question, lest underwater lights electrocute her. This woman
suffered from electrophobia -- the morbid fear of electricity.
Phobialist.com lists it before eleutherophobia (fear of freedom)
and after eisoptrophobia (fear of mirrors, or seeing oneself
in a mirror).
may have a flip side. If you possess uranophobia you’re
afraid of heaven – hadephobia, your aversion is hell.
Calignephobia denotes a fear of beautiful women and cacophobia,
a fear of ugliness. If you’re afraid of all your relatives,
you suffer from syngenesophobia. If you’re afraid of your
mother-in-law, you are pentheraphobic; if both your in-laws
terrify you, your condition is called soceraphobia. Medomalacuphobia
is the fear of losing an erection, medorthophobia is the fear
of an erect penis, while ithyphallophobia is the fear of seeing,
thinking about or having an erect penis. Who knew?
of the phobias listed are recorded in the OED (Oxford
English Dictionary) including aerophobia (fear of drafts), bogyphobia
(fear of bogeymen), coprophobia (fear of feces), deipnophobia
(fear of dining), siderodromophobia (fear of rail travel), tæniiphobia
(fear of tapeworm) and triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number
13). If you suffer from papaphobia, the OED relates
that you possess a “distempered dread of the pope or popery.”
is the fear of foreign people. One can, not suprisingly given
the plethora of phobias, specify which particular group freaks
you out. Some examples are Anglo (English), Bolshe (Bolsheviks),
Franco or Gallo (French), Judeo (Jews), Sino (Chinese), Teuto
or Germano (German) and Walloon (Walloons -- French-speaking
people living in southern Belgium). However, if you are afflicted
with Hellenologophobia, you are not afraid of Greeks, but of
Greek terms or complicated scientific terminology. On September
26, 2012, after Canadian diplomats at the United Nations walked
out when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech, the Iranian leader
accused Canada of “Iranophobia.” This coinage, however,
has not yet been approved by the OED.
any animal can make someone cringe: bird (ornithophobia), cat
(ailurophobia), chicken (alektorophobia), fish (ichthyophobia),
frogs (ranidaphobia), horse (equinophobia), mice (musophobia),
otter (lutraphobia), shellfish (ostraconophobia), snakes (ophidiophobia),
spiders (arachnophobia), toad (bufonophobia) and wasp (spheksophobia).
word and suffix phobia comes from the Greek phobos,
“fear.” Phobos was the son of the Greek god of war
Ares. When he accompanied Dad into battle, intrepid Phobos instilled
fear in all whom he encountered. The first citation of phobia
in the OED is in 1786: “I shall begin by defining
Phobia . . . to be a fear of an imaginary evil, or an undue
fear of a real one.” Samuel Coleridge is credited with
the next citation in a letter he wrote in 1801 in which he employed
a facetious usage ; “I have a perfect phobia of inns and
was right about one thing. We must fear fear itself. This is
listed as phobophobia -- the fear of fear itself.