Ever Wondered What a Phobia Is?

By Howard J. Bennett

With Halloween just around the corner, I suspect many of you are getting ready to scare your neighbors as you troll the neighborhood looking for candy. So I thought this would be a good time to talk about things that frighten people. I don’t mean roller coasters or scary movies. Instead, I want to discuss the kinds of fears people face everyday.

Most people are afraid of something. My daughter freaks out if she finds a spider in the bathroom. When my wife was a child, she slept in her parent’s bathtub during thunderstorms. I really hate to fly.

In some cases, fear is a good thing. If you weren’t cautious when you came to the edge of a cliff, you might fall and break your neck. Similarly, if you saw a raccoon roaming through your mom’s garden at three o’clock in the afternoon, a fear of rabies should prompt you to (a) get the heck out of there and (b) find a grownup who can call animal control and have the raccoon taken away.

Sometimes, however, fears can be blown out of proportion. If getting into an elevator sends you into a panic, not only isn’t the fear doing you any good, but it can also interfere with your life—especially if you’re headed to the top floor of a building. When a fear gets that intense it’s called a phobia.

If you searched the Internet, you would find websites that list hundreds of phobias. Most phobias are given names, some of which make sense. A fear of spiders, also known as arachnophobia, comes from the scientific name for spiders: arachnids.

Arachnophobia is so common that a movie of the same name was made in 1990. JK Rowling had lots of fun with Ron’s arachnophobia in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when she created a zillion spiders to chase Ron and Harry through the Forbidden Forrest.

The names of most phobias, however, don’t offer any clues about the nature of the fear. You may not know this, but lots of people are afraid of clowns. It that fear morphs into something worse, it’s called coulrophobia. That word doesn’t sound very clown-like.

In addition to common fears like claustrophobia (fear of being trapped in small, confined spaces) and aerophobia (that’s the one I have), some phobias are truly odd.

What possible fear could be lurking behind the word lachanophobia? It is simply the fear of vegetables! (This is clearly very common with my younger patients!)

Here is a list of my favorite weird phobias. The reason they are my favorites is because they deal with something gross!

• Bromidrophobia: fear of body odors.

• Emetophobia: fear of vomit.

• Scatophobia: fear of poop.

• Ablutophobia: fear of washing or bathing.

• Myxophobia: fear of slime.

• Urophobia: fear of peeing in public toilets.

One word of advice: Don’t try and con your parents into skipping a bath because you have suddenly developed ablutophobia. They read the paper too!


© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 10/25/10.)

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