Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Glossophobia might as well mean the fear of waxing your car to a high gloss

Compare the shiny car at the left with this un-waxed Honda Accord, and its matte camouflage paint job. The owner of this Honda clearly has a serious case of glossophobia, accompanied by delusions of stealth.
If you look in Wikipedia it currently says that “glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking.” Try looking up glossophobia online in the Merriam Webster dictionary - it isn’t there. (It’s also not in the Oxford English Dictionary). Using that word is pedantic nonsense. It will not help you to locate good information about fear of public speaking.
Nevertheless, glossophobia just keeps right on showing up in blog posts by both public speaking coaches (for example, here and here) and by Toastmasters clubs (here and here ).
The word glossophobia is NOT useful jargon because that is not what the psychiatrists and psychologists who study it (and treat it) call that problem. They used to call it public-speaking phobia. More recently they have called it speech anxiety or public speaking anxiety, a subtype of social anxiety.
In the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Anxiety Disorders there is a 9-page article on The Relation Between Public Speaking Anxiety and Social Anxiety: A Review. The word glossophobia never appears.
If you look in Triumph Over Shyness, a book by the psychiatrist Murray B. Stein you will not ever find the word glossophobia used. Neither will you find that word in Laurie Rozakis’s book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking.

Now, I also have seen it claimed that glossophobia is not the fear of lip gloss. Perhaps it should be.

Just knowing the name for something is a very low form of knowledge. In his book of reminisces, What Do You Care What Other People Think?, Richard Feynman recalled what his father told him about birds in the following quote:

“You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts.”


robert fineberg said...

Panphobia covers all the phobias so you don't have to single out glossophobia.

It must be frustrating to receive no posts.

Richard I. Garber said...

That comment is pretty silly coming from someone with a case of graphophobia (fear of writing).

So far I have written ~110 posts on my blog. I looked up your Speaking on Speaking blog ( There is a title page, but not a single post since you set it up. When, if ever, are you planning on actually posting something?

”The man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic, the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imprecisely, not the man who only talks or writes about how it should be done.” - Theodore Roosevelt, 1891

robert fineberg said...

You have one quote that you use all the time. The same Teddy quote from your email to me. Find another one or two, their all over the Internet.

Yup, empty blog. I haven't decided to do anything rather than prattle on as you do. There are too many self styled experts already blogging.

You must be a barrel of fun in your Toastmasters club.

How many books can you refer to per pet peeve?

Sims Wyeth said...


I just now saw your mention of my blog's mention of the word "glossophobia." I'm about 6 months slow in responding.

I get your point. Glossophobia is not a word that we use.

However, in my defense, it is evidence that the fear of speaking has been around since ancient Athens (and most likely before) so I take the existence of the word to be encouraging, in the sense that we are not alone in our anxiety, neither in space or time.

So while the word cannot be interpreted by most readers, it has, when interpreted by guys like me, a reassuring effect that stage fright is an old and normal human experience.

And that can be decisive.

I like your blog.

Sims Wyeth