Fifty shades of paraphilia, followup

By: | Post date: 2019-05-14 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics

My original post on the clumsy coinages of terms for paraphilias was a bit of careless venting on Quora, and did not bother researching the creation of the words too deeply. It was, as commenters at Nikos Sarantakos’ blog correctly identified, some xavales, “goofing off”. (Sarantakos did say when I sent him the post, “I think you are being a little harsh on John Money.”) And it was not the kind of thing I should be saying with my linguist hat on: with my linguist hat on, autassinophilia was not intrinsically worse than automobile as a hybrid form (though, by invoking the Asāsiyyūn, it was a more bizarre form.) Eproctophilia is, in fact, intrinsically worse; but it’s not the first dumb coinage that has become a real word in language, and it won’t be the last.

When I updated the post for Sarantakos (which he titled “Fifty shades of paraphilia”), I thought I should put a somewhat less goof-off addendum, about what the clumsy coinages were demonstrating:

For centuries, the scientific terminology of Western science had its footing on classical languages, because classical languages were the languages of learning. In the 20th century, that footing dropped away: classical languages are not particularly known outside of classical philology (and often enough are barely known even there.) Consequently, newer Western scientific terminology does not pay particular attention to Latin and Greek. The terminology of IT in particular is playful, simple, and Anglo-Saxon; and that results in clumsy solutions when we make those terms learnèd again in Greek. Bubblesort is much more spontaneous than ταξινόμηση φυσαλίδας “classification by gas globule”.

Not knowing Latin and Greek is a sign of the times. It’s the poor command of Latin and Greek that shows how marginal classical languages have become in scientific terminology. There are plenty of experts who want to come up with impressive Latin and Greek terms, because impressive Latin and Greek terms are still an institution in the sciences; but they don’t do it right, they come up with broken forms, and noone bothers to correct them. (At least, noone within the English-speaking world.)

So speciesism was coined in 1973 by a psychologist who was not particularly interested in Latin morphology, and so treated species as an uninflected form. As I analysed in ουγκανιά and αντισπισισμός, at least Romance languages corrected the word when they borrowed it (espécisme, specismo, especismo ). (Greek also changed it to spisismos, when it doesn’t nativise it as iðismos; but I believe that was just haplology.)

The case of coulrophobia, the phobia of clowns, is much sillier. Noone knows where the first person to launch it online in 1995 came up with it from, and after it was launched, noone took the time to check it. It might be a distortion of Modern Greek klooun < clown. It might have something to do with kōlobathron “stilts”, as is often claimed, because someone dug up that word, and thought that the closest Ancient Greek ever got to clowns was stilt-walkers. (That corrected etymology has made it back to Greece: Τι είναι η κωλοβαθριστοφοβία; Μήπως πάσχεις και εσύ και δεν το ξέρεις; “What is kolovathristofovia? Might you be suffering from it without even knowing abut it?”) But the opinion of etymonline rings truest: “Coulrophobia looks suspiciously like the sort of thing idle pseudo-intellectuals invent on the internet and which every smarty-pants takes up thereafter.”

Of course, as that article also points out, the word is not an official term in psychology, though the phenomenon is acknowledged there; and if it were an official term, the requisite plausibility check might have happened…

… Maybe, but Money’s acrobatics, and the unbelievable sloppiness of Aggrawal’s catalogue of paraphilias (in an otherwise serious monograph from the reputable publisher Taylor & Francis) shows that it probably wouldn’t have. Sloppiness, misinterpretation and solecisms in classicising terminology now go unnoticed, because classicising terminology is no longer a living process with many participants actively checking it. It is a dry convention, with little attention paid to it. And when we need to borrow its results back into Greek, we end up patching them up as best we can.

As several commenters chimed in (Diver of Sinks first),

Bad news for those of us who boast about the words we have given the Dumb Franks: we’ve already offered anything there was to offer (ό,τι δώσαμε δώσαμε).

There was a bit of discussion on that between me and commenter Neo Kid: yes, coinage based on Graeco-Latin roots is still going on. But it no longer particularly cares how true to Greek and Latin the results are; much less so than in the past. The Graeco-Latinity of the coinages is a much more empty gesture now. And commenter Nikiplos made the justified (if painful) observation that the Asian and African future pioneers of science are going to have a lot less patience for Graeco-Latin coinages than their European colleagues.

I was also justly asked by Neo Kid whether my expression of revulsion was a scholarly opinion or merely a matter of personal taste. It could only, of course, be a matter of personal taste, because as a linguist, all I get to say is, “shit happens”. That’s why I’d linked to Professor Higgins in the original post: Professor Higgins might well have said that Liza Doolittle should have been “taken out and hung for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue”; but no linguist in the past century would issue those kinds of aesthetic (and classist) judgements ex cathedra.

Though that’s not the kind of lack of privilege in evidence with these coinages. And I’m not going to forgive eproctophilia soon. If you’re going to go to the bother of making up a Graeco-Latin word for “fart fetish”, at least take the time to look up an actual Greek or Latin word for “fart”, instead of coming up with “out-of.(Latin)-anus.(Greek)-philia”.

The crowd at Sarantakos’, I have to say, is tougher than on this obscure blog, or even on Quora. (And I’ve been blocking commenters much more on my return to it!) Commenter Ioanna was critical of the unserious part of my post, and the criticism is not unwarranted. I reproduce it here.

Dr Nick Nicholas, who is acknowledged to be an excellent linguist, should not have rushed to conclusions about the competence in Greek of a scholar, whose brilliant career he is completely unfamiliar with. The late John Money was one of the most preemiment American sexologists, professor for years at John Hopkins and Baltimore Hospital. Professor Money had Greek learning, had boundless admiration for the Greek language, and was in no way only familiar with it via dictionaries, as Dr Nicholas maliciously implies.

I would have expected the esteemed Dr Nicholas to have at least leafed through some of Prof Money’s books before writing this article. It is embarrassing for a linguist with Dr Nicholas’ reputation to have used Wikipedia to look up the meanings of kinds of paraphilias, and ignored John Money’s masterpiece Gay, Straight, and In-Between: The Sexology of Erotic Orientation (1988), where all the words are explained in detail. If he can’t afford to buy the book, he can say so and I’ll mail it to him.

For instance, this is what Money writes about erotophonophilia, which so offended the linguistic sensitivities of Dr Nicholas, clearly acting as a snob:

erotophonophilia: a paraphilia of the sacrificial/expiatory type in which sexuoerotic arousal and facilitation or attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent on stage-managing and carrying out the murder of an unsuspecting sexual partner (from Greek, eros, love + phonein, to murder + -philia). The erotophonophile’s orgasm coincides with the expiration of the partner. The reciprocal paraphilic condition is autassassinophilia. Syn. lust murder.

Is that anything to do with Wikipedia’s definition?

I’ll take my lumps. Erotophonophilia is clearly defined by Money as a murder fetish and not a death fetish, the way Wikipedia said it was. And using Wikipedia was sloppy; yes, it was deliberately sloppy, because I was writing a flippant post, but it was impugning a scholar in doing so. (Although I still don’t think autassassinophilia, let alone olfactophilia, are evidence of boundless admiration.) I also can’t confirm that eproctophilia was Money’s doing (although olfactophilia is on his 1988 list). But if he didn’t want to be judged by classicist snobs, he shouldn’t have used olfactophilia instead of smell fetish to begin with. The snobbishness is inherent in Graeco-Latin coinages.

Money’s reputation won’t suffer that much by me grousing about autassassinophilia, even if it was a cheap shot. There are far more serious controversies to his research anyway.

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