Friday, June 18, 2010



Wikipedia, s.v. Coulrophobia:
Coulrophobia is abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns....The prefix "coulro=" comes from the Ancient Greek κωλοβαθριστής (kōlobathristēs), "one who goes on stilts".
Questions arise:
  1. Whence comes the r after the l?
  2. Why is Greek omega transliterated as English ou?
  3. Why is -phobia attached to only the beginning of the Greek word?
Coulrophobia started to pop up in English in the late 1990s. There is a spurious 1997 example in Google News Archives (actually from 2008). The earliest example in Google Books is Mary Ann D'Onofrio and Elizabeth D'Onofrio, Psychiatric Words and Phrases, 2nd ed. (Health Professions Institute, 1998), but this is a "no preview" book. The word has recently started to show up in French and German as coulrophobie.

No ancient Greek word starts with κουλρο- (koulro-), and no other English word starts with coulro-. It's a meaningless prefix, so far as I can tell, and the word coulrophobia should be avoided.

According to Liddell-Scott-Jones, κωλοβαθριστής is a rare word, occurring only in Hesychius. It and its rare cousin κωλόβαθρον (kōlóbathron = stilt) apparently come from κῶλον (kōlon = limb, member).

The standard ancient Greek word for clown is γελωτοποιός (gelōtopoiós, literally laughter-maker), e.g. Xenophon, Symposium 1.11, etc. See S.C. Woodhouse, English-Greek Dictionary: A Vocabulary of the Attic Language (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1910), s.vv. buffoon, clown, and jester. Woodhouse s.v. buffoon also gives βωμόλοχος (bōmólochos) as a possibility.

If psychobabble needs a sesquipedalian word for abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns, gelotopoiophobia or bomolochophobia would be better than coulrophobia.


<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?