Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pteromechanophobia just is a humorous, pseudo-technical term for fear of flying - from a satirical cartoonist

There are a lot of books about public speaking. I recently glanced at a 2017 one by Mary Fensholt Perera titled The Polished Presentation (the complete speaker’s guide). You can look inside it at Amazon, or preview it at Google Books. Part I is about Presentation Anxiety. Chapter 1 is titled You Are Not Alone. Her second paragraph begins by claiming:

“Anxiety about public speaking earned the scientific name “glossophobia” from the Greek terms for ‘tongue’ and ‘dread.’ “

I disagree. In a blog post on March 7, 2011 titled Taking the gloss off glossophobia, I concluded:

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

Then on page 5 she says:

“Today’s most common phobias show us how our body is designed to deal with our long history of dangerous environments, with the world our ancestors knew. Here are some fears that make virtually every list of the most common phobias:

Arachnophobia              Fear of spiders
Ophidiophobia               Fear of snakes
Murophobia                   Fear of rodents
Claustrophobia              Fear of small spaces
Nyctophobia                  Fear of the dark
Agoraphobia                  Fear of open spaces, of leaving a safe place
Pteromerhanophobia     Fear of flying (height and enclosed space)
Cynophobia                   Fear of dogs (wolves, predators)
Glossophobia                Fear of public speaking”

I’d previously seen fear of flying called either aerophobia or aviophobia, but not pteromerhanophobia. Aerophobia is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, where it is defined as fear or strong dislike of flying. Aviophobia similarly is in the Merriam-Webster medical dictionary, and defined as fear of flying.

But where the heck did that silly word, pteromerhanophobia, come from? A Google search showed that it seemed to only have popped up on July 17, 1995 on a web site called The Phobia List where it was defined as fear of flying.

Ptero is Greek for wing or feather, and famously shows up in a name for a flying dinosaur, pterodactylus - “feather finger.” And phobia is Greek for fear.

Merhano doesn’t really sound Greek. It seems vaguely Spanish or Basque, and might mean something like “stubborn donkey” (but really does not). Was Merhano a name the marketing department at Mitsubishi Motors dreamed up for a new sport-utility-vehicle, but rejected as being too close to Nissan’s Murano? Not really. Actually Merhano just is a place five miles southeast of Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea.

A further broader Google search lead me to a page at a web site called ABC word which had another word - pteromechanophobia. Apparently the compiler of The Phobia List used some hand-printed notes, and the bottom from a lower-case c got lost and thus turned into an r. The clearly Greek mechano (mechanical) became the obscure merhano. 

Looking around on Google Books led me to the source for pteromechanophobia. It appeared in a 1971 book by satirical cartoonist Robert Chesley Osborn and Eve Wengler titled An Osborn Festival of Phobias. A page there says:

“His own phobias are pteromechanophobia...”

The Wikipedia page about Robert Chesley Osborn says that during World War II he and Captain Austin K. Doyle came up with a comic character for Navy training manuals - a pilot named Dilbert Groundloop, which eventually inspired Scott Adams to use the first name to title his famous comic strip.     

The Fear of Flying Monster was photoshopped from a little finger monster named Saurn from Archie McPhee - who I got at Re-Pop Gifts here in Boise, while the pterodacytl image came from Wikimedia Commons.   

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