• hysteria •
his-ter-ee-ê, his-ti-ree-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Loss of control of the emotions resulting in frenzied crying, laughter, screaming, or flailing about. 2. Panic, uncontrollable fear. 3. An obsolete term for a mental disorder characterized by high anxiety, and sensory and motor disturbances such as memory loss, blindness, or deafness.
Notes: Today's Good Word was chosen because its origin explains a long prejudice against women. It is a good word to demonstrate how far we have progressed (or not progressed) since ancient times. The adjective for this word is hysteric or, if you need an extra syllable for your poem, hysterical. You must use the extra syllable for the adverb, which is spelled hysterically.
In Play: The assumption that women are more prone to hysteria than men is a prejudice that has persisted for 2000 years: "Whenever the Red Sox won a game, all the men in our house gave way to hysteria." I'll bet you never thought of calling reactions at a sports event "hysteria". Yet, it fits the first definition above. "Orson Wells did not expect his radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds in 1938 to cause mass hysteria." But it did.
Word History: Hippocrates started the rumor that women—and only women—become hysterical. Today's Good Word is based on Greek hystera "womb", as in hysterectomy. Hippocrates thought that the womb was an independent "animal", free to move around inside a woman. When it began to move, women became hysterical. He concluded this, no doubt, by observing women's behavior during childbirth. Galen disagreed that the womb was free to move about, but when Galen went to Rome, the prejudice was allowed to persist. Since all doctors were familiar with Latin and Greek, they could easily spot the hystera inside hysteria. So, the medical assumption that hysteria was caused by a "wandering womb" persisted for centuries in Europe. The medical term was often identified as "female hysteria" down to the late 19th century. The prejudice continues to this day.
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