It started as a conversation with a friend. We were talking about his boy, and how afraid his boy once was of water.
“Hydrophobia,” I said, remembering the word from somewhere.
My friend grinned. “Ah, yes. The good old phobias. What is it that makes the names so fascinating?”
I shrugged. “Because they’re so long?”
“Or so official-sounding,” said my friend. “Just saying them makes you feel smug.”
And so it was that we ran through all the phobias we could think of, including claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), acrophobia (fear of heights), mysophobia (dread of dirt), and xenophobia (suspicion of strangers).
A few days later I remembered our talk and decided to further my knowledge. That night I emerged from my study bursting with new-found facts.
Phobias, I discovered, run quite the gamut, ranging from fear of oneself (monophobia) to fear of everyone else (anthrophobia). Psychiatrists claim to have labeled more than 700 separate dreads, which makes sense when you think of all the things out there to worry about.
Nature, for instance, abounds with forces worth fearing, as the recent East Coast storms make clear. There are phobias about thunder (keraunophobia), bees (apiphobia), microbes (baccilophobia), rain (ombrophobia) and even flowers (anthophobia).
Extreme temperatures of the wintry sort might induce psychrophobia, or fear of the cold. Here in the Midwest we needn’t suffer from thalassophobia, or fear of the ocean, but having become acclimated to life in the sheltering woods, we might well experience agoraphobia, or fear of open places, if stuck out on the plains.
On the social side of things, we might develop androphobia (fear of men), gynephobia (fear of women), ochlophobia (fear of crowds) or pediphobia (fear of children or dolls). Gamophobia, or fear of marriage, is an ever-present threat.
When it comes to things medical, we might fall prey to nosophobia (fear of disease), hematophobia (fear of blood), algophobia (fear of pain), belonophobia (fear of pins and needles) or perhaps iatrophobia (dread of doctors).
And then, of course, there are the various occupational hazards such as a painter developing chromophobia (fear of certain colors), a furniture salesman coming down with a case of clinophobia (fear of beds), a trucker succumbing to gephydrophobia (fear of crossing bridges), a barber becoming trichophobic (afraid of hair) or an executive overwhelmed by decidophobia (fear of making decisions).
Then, too, we all run the risk of becoming ponophobic, or afraid of work.
But worst of all, we might develop phobophobia, or fear of our own fears, in which case, I submit, it would be well to call time-out and retire to the kitchen for a soothing little snack.
Unless, of course, you suffer from arachibutyrophobia, which, as you probably guessed, means fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.
(Columnist Craig Nagel recently published a collection of past Cracker Barrel articles in book form titled “A Sense of Wonder.”)
Copyright 2012 by Craig Nagel