Previously published in Examiner
Part 5 of the Language series
The origin of the word Hysteria and its relevance to women
This term hysteria was said to have been coined by Freud and used only in the context of women, but how many of you are aware of the root word for hysteria?
The term has always been associated with a nervous condition. Yet, it is has been a male perception that this hysteria, or nervous condition had to be a woman’s condition. This male concept of women being hysterical was a predominant view of the ancient Greeks. It is from the Greeks that we get the origin of the word. Hystero-, hyster-, hysteri means the womb or uterus in Greek. Thus, the disease of the uterus or womb was called hysteria.
Even such notables as Plato, associated female complaints with issues pertaining to the uterus. Plato believed that the uterus or hustera, was some kind of animal instinct that needed to be pregnant and it if did not have this need filled then it would become uncontrollable and attack various parts of the body until it reached the brain and caused female hysterics.
Hypocrites, on the other hand, theorized that hysteria was a result of insufficient blood flowing to the uterus, which made a little more sense than Plato’s concept. Freud added a new dimension to the condition when he called an attack of the uterus an attack of the vapors. However not much changed; hysterical behavior remained a female condition caused by an attack of the uterus.
For years women, particularly feminists, have complained about the terms used to refer to women and how those very terms shape society by the transmission of language. For years, there has been controversy about whether or not these theories could possibly be true. However, not much empirical research was ever done in the area to sustain or refute the claim until now.
To be continued
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Department of Psychology Concordia University – Cognitive Science