Monday, March 7, 2011

Taking the gloss off glossophobia

Back in July 2009 I quipped that, rather than a fear of public speaking, glossophobia might as well mean the fear of waxing your car to a high gloss (or possibly lip gloss). It is a compound word that is intended to amaze rather than inform. Searching using that term won’t lead you to much useful information.

The term continues to be used in press releases, often with a claim of how commonly it occurs. There was one on March 1st by Lynn Scarborough that claimed:

“The technical term for this common phobia is Glossophobia which comes from the Greek meaning fear or dread (phobos) of the tongue (glossa). Studies have shown that “tongue fear” or stage fright is shared by over 75% of the population, regardless of sex, nationally or socio-economic level.”

There was another one on February 28th touting a book Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion, by Robert Sayler and Molly Bishop Shadel:

“About 80 percent of educated adults in America suffer from some form of glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, Sayler said.”

In January 2010 professor Graham Bodie published a very detailed review article on pages 70 to 105 in volume 59 of Communication Education magazine. It was titled “A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety.” How many times did the word glossophobia appear in there? None, nil, nada!

When you look up glossophobia in online dictionaries, you will find that it does not appear in either Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English dictionary, although other “top five” phobias do.

I also tried looking up glossophobia, and the phrases “speech anxiety” and “public speaking anxiety” in nine different magazine databases. My searches were of the full-text of their articles. The results are shown above. Glossophobia showed up a lot in the general ProQuest Central database at the Boise Public Library. It did not show up at all in the more technical ProQuest Social Sciences and ProQuest Psychology databases. Glossophobia showed up very rarely in the Communication Abstrracts and Communication & Mass Media Complete databases at Boise State University (which have the most detailed technical coverage of public speaking)   

Using the word glossophobia says something - that you don’t actually know what you are talking about. It’s really just pseudo-technical terminology.

The nifty mirror image of lip gloss comes from Daniel Case.

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