kê-thek-sis • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The focus or direction of emotional energy on a single object, idea, or activity. 2. A fixation or obsession.
Notes: Like all English words ending on -is (basis : bases, crisis : crises), the plural of this word is cathexes [kę-thek-seez]. Psychoanalysts, who define the word slightly differently (the focus of sexual energy), use the verb cathect and the adjective cathetic "related to cathexis", so why shouldn't we?
In Play: A cathexis does not necessarily focus on a fetish; work can be a cathexis if it is carried out with energy redirected from other parts of your life: "I wouldn't say that Sheila merely loves chocolate; chocolate is the object of a passionate cathexis for her." The object of a strong cathexis, however, may be a fetish: "Sheila cathects accessories the way other women cathect men."
Word History: Today's word is a carbon copy of Greek kathexis "holding, retention" from katekhein "to hold fast", based on the intensive prefix kat(a)- "very (much)" + ekhein "to hold on (to), to keep". A historically related word is eunuch from Greek eunoukhos "an unmanned man in charge of the women of a harem". This word comes from eune "bed" + ekhein "to keep". There is also a possibility that Greek skhole "a rest stop, leisure time", the origin of our word school, is related, with only the [kh] sound of ekhein surviving. If so, attitudes toward schooling would seem to have radically changed since we borrowed it. (If Curtis Simple has a cathexis for words like this, we are very grateful to be its beneficiary.)
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