• trichotillomania •
tri-kê-ti-lê-may-ni-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: The irresistible urge to pull out your hair.
Notes: Today's Good Word is dedicated to those who think that English doesn't have a word for everything. It is generally used in medicine in reference to a mental disorder but every word is subject to figurative usage and this one is no exception. A person who feels the urge to pull out his or her hair may be a trichotillomaniac or a trichotillomanic. The latter also serves as the adjective for today's word.
In Play: "Pulling out one's hair" is an English idiom meaning to undergo extreme frustration. I am sure all Americans have experienced this urge, especially recently: "Congressional politics, the presidential campaign, the cost of college and housing, the stagnation of wages, and job loss are all behind a rising sense of trichotillomania in the US." We also find ourselves in situations where we need a word much, much longer than nuts: "This crossword puzzle is driving me to trichotillomania!" Nothing like today's word for that situation.
Word History: This stunning Good Word is composed of the compounding roots of three Greek words: thrix, trikh- "hair" + tillein "to pluck hair" + mania "madness". The relation between brilliance and madness, so deeply ingrained in Western thinking, shows up in the heritage of Greek mania. The same root appears in mantis "visionary, seer" (borrowed by English for praying mantis). In Latin we also see it in mens, mentis "mind", the origin of English mental and our noun suffix -ment. The same root came to Sanskrit in mantrah "prayer, advice", a meaning related to the Greek sense of "seer" found in mantis. Mania conjures up visions of craziness and intelligence like no other word.