February 27, 2007

Modern Phobias

There are long names for various kinds of unusually intense and specific fears or aversions to things and it’s an exercise in (generally) one’s subliminal knowledge of Greek to test what these things are. For instance, common sorts of fears – claustrophobia, acrophobia, and agoraphobia are well-known and derived from the Greek words for “room,” “height,” and “market.” Or triskaidekaphobia from the Greek word for the number 13, and its close cousin, paraskavedekatriaphobia, which is fear of Friday the 13th. More challenging are words like erythrophobia (a fear of red lights), kakorrhaphiophobia (a fear of being defeated), and hellenologophobia (a fear of complex words derived from Greek, like the word “hellenologophobia”).

But not all of these abnormal fears have names yet and the modern world has given people so many other things to be irrationally afraid of that language has not caught up. For instance, a theophobe is afraid of gods or religion, but what about someone who is irrationally afraid of atheists? Atheophobia would be a fear that there is no god, which is a different fear than the state of being fearful of people whose world view is that there is no god; in other words, even if god exists, one might still be irrationally afraid of those who deny that god’s existence, and I can’t figure out what word one would attach to it.

Xenophobia is a fear of foreigners, but modern political irrationalities are a bit more discriminating than against foreigners generally. People commonly disparaged as xenophobes typically exclude from their aversion sub-fears like canadiphobia, an irrational fear of Canada or Canadians, and probably also excludes or at least downplays europhobia for the same reason. The fear is generally not of affluent foreigners, those who speak English well, or those who have fair skin; the general phobia seems directed at Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and points south. But a fear of immigrants from south of the border presents another lexicological problem: mexophobia refers to Mexicans only, but those suffering from this condition also would likely suffer from salvadoraphobia and honduraphobia and other related conditions as well as a result of being unable to mentally distinguish between Mexico and other Central and South American nations. So what about latinoamericophobia (fear of people from Latin America) or hispanololaphobia (fear of people who speak Spanish)? Or perhaps more accurately, peniahispanololaphobia (fear of poor people who speak Spanish)?

Cyberphobia describes be a fear of computers in a general sense, but what name would be given to the more specific kind of abnormal fear that an inexperienced computer user experiences when first using a mouse or a particular operating system? What word would one use to describe an abnormal fear of having one’s nose hairs visibly protrude from one’s nostrils during a critical meeting? What about an irrational fear that homosexuals will convert one’s children to homosexuality? A fear of losing one’s passport while traveling abroad (I suffer from this) or of being made the victim of identity theft? What is a fear that one’s alarm clock will fail in the middle of the night, or a fear that the cheese will have grown moldy or the milk soured before it can be used?

Now, it’s not like there aren’t examples of very specific, contemporary kinds of fears; opiophobia is the fear a doctor experiences when prescribing narcotics or other painkilling drugs that the patient will become addicted and it will be the doctor’s fault. But as dynamic and interesting as the English language is, it doesn’t seem to have caught up with these vexing issues. Apparently, I'm suffering from a touch of alogophobia here myself.


Salsola said...

What about Phobophobia?

Alex Ashman said...

"one might still be irrationally afraid of those who deny that god’s existence, and I can’t figure out what word one would attach to it."

Actually, atheophobia will do quite nicely for a fear/hatred of atheists.

Burt Likko said...

Wouldn't "atheophobia" be the fear that there is no God?

Alex Ashman said...

If taken literally, yes. However, the word has generally been hijacked to mean "fear/hatred of atheists". It wasn't my doing, though I am taking it upon myself to spread the usage of the word (see http://atheophobia.blogspot.com/) - I think a word describing anti-atheist bigotry is more useful than one that describes a fear that there is no God.