Saturday, January 12, 2002

Psychiatry and Greek
by Deepti

A peep into the vocabulary of modern psychiatry is enough to make anyone a hypochondriac! So, read on, and in the New Year lose friends and make enemies by identifying their ailments. By the way, donít forget to look for your own!

Often,in sheer frustration with something impossible, one says that itís enough to make you tear out your hair! Maybe the vexation gets too much for some people, for, there is a disorder which manifests itself in a compulsion to pull out oneís hair; trichotillomania. Trichotillomania is a combination of Greek words, tricho from trikhos or hair, till from tillein or to pluck, pull and mania from mainesthai or madness. Obviously, if something makes you trichtiollomaniac, you must be quite concerned about it. Which gives the psychoanalyst another term to unleash on poor mortals, cathexis. Cathexis comes from the Greek kathexis that means retention; leading to the English loan under consideration which means concentration of emotional energy on an object or idea. The reverse of kathexis would be acedia, spiritual torpor and apathy, what the student of literature terms ennui. Acedia comes from the Greek akedia which is made up of a, without, and kedos, care.

Classic loans
December 22, 2001
Elected words
December 8, 2001
The Italian connection
November 24, 2001
Words in writing
November 10, 2001
October 27, 2001
The pickings of war
October 13, 2001
American English
September 29, 2001
September 15, 2001
Foreigners, come to stay
September 1, 2001

Word clusters
August 18, 2001

In the same vein
August 4, 2001
The cyber family
July 21, 2001

A visit to a gift shop is enough to make a person an arctophile and, in the process, induce acalculia. An arctophile is a person who is very fond of and is usually a collector of teddy bears. The word combines the Greek arktos, bear, and philos, loving, along the lines of bibliophile, booklover. Acalculia is the inability or the loss of the ability to perform simple calculations. At last, a word that is not Greek by birth! But wait, not so hasty, one part of acalculia is Greek, for it is made up of a, without, which is Greek and the Latin calculare, calculate.

The Greek prefix Ďdys-í gives the psychoanalyst many convenient words for labelling our follies and foibles. Dys- means bad or difficult, so, dysaestheia is an impairment of the senses from aisthesis, sensation; dysarthia is unclear speech from arthron, articulation; dyscalculia is a severe form of acalculia; dysgraphia is the inability to write clearly (from graphia, writing); and dysphoria, the opposite of euphoria, is a state of dissatisfaction, from Greek dusphoria, hard to bear.

Our grannies could very conveniently cite age as an excuse for a weak memory, but we canít enjoy any such privilege. If a person confuses fact or fantasy or even mixes up the meaning of words, the psychiatrist sticks on the label of paramnesia. Paramnesia is from the Greek para, beside or amiss, and amnesia, forgetfulness. Similarly, old age is no excuse for steering clear of fun and frolic, for, then, you are suffering from anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities. Anhedonia comes from the Greek an, without and hedone, pleasure. So far, these words exist in psychology texts. Perhaps usage will make them a part of the general vocabulary, or they will peter away like dead metaphors. Meanwhile, hope all you readers were true hedonists on New Yearís Eve!


A metaphor becomes Ďdeadí when it loses its figurative sense. For example, gobhi, to begin with, was used metaphorically for the cauliflower vegetable, while literally, it was a cowís tongue. Since both the speaker and the listener have ceased to be aware that gobhi is not a literal term but a metaphorical one, it becomes a dead metaphor.


This feature was published on January 5, 2002