• paranoia •
Pronunciation: pæ-rê-noy-yê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: Abnormal fear of persecution, irrational fear of threats to your well-being in the absence of such threats. Also a medical term referring to a psychotic disorder with the same symptoms.
Notes: Today's Good Word has two adjectives, paranoid and paranoiac, both of which double as a noun referring to a paranoid person. Paranoid is used far more widely and frequently, though I prefer paranoiac as a noun referring to a paranoid person.
In Play: Paranoia manifests itself primarily as an irrational fear of being watched by someone posing a threat: "Justin Case suffers from paranoia to the point that he walks backwards to make sure no one is following him." However, we should not lose sight of that adage of the 60s: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the Greek word paranoia "madness" simply transliterated to the Latin alphabet. The Greek word is the noun from paranoos "demented, out of one's mind" made up of para- "beyond" + noos "the mind". If I were paranoid, I would think the etymologists of the world are conspiring to keep the origin of noos away from us. A more likely explanation, though, is that no one knows where it comes from. The history of para is an open book. It comes from the same original root as English for and Latin per. It is used as a prefix in English today meaning "ancillary, parallel to", as the paralegal "a legal assistant" and paramilitary "ancillary to the military". (Let's now thank Helen Barrett lest she feel paranoid that we will not show our appreciation for her suggestion of today's Good Word.)