September 16, 2008

Where do all the phobias come from?

Homophobia? Xenophobia? Both words express the fear of the unknown world of homosexuals on the first case or foreigners on the second. Interestingly enough, the phenomenon is so widely accepted that we actually had to come up with a word to describe our condition. What I enjoy in searching for the etymology of a word is also trying to understand the circumstances and the reasons under which that word was created.

Homophobia for instance, why do we need to describe a fear of homosexuality? What threat does a homosexual person or lifestyle pose for the human being or the society? Is it a physical damage? Is it a psychological, moral, legal damage? Each question may receive a different answer from different sectors of society. Religion, politics, the educational system, academia, history and tradition, all stand differently on the matter depending on their influences and what they stand for.

The defines homophobia as “bias” and “prejudice” against the homosexual people. In Greek, the language where the word originates from, the composite Homo - means alike, similar, same as something else and –phobia means fear, but also in ancient Greek the verb “fovame” (φοβάμαι) meant to be in awe/fear of something or someone (δείδω). So, if we put it together, homophobia describes the situation where we are afraid of the same sex! The meaning it is given nowadays is of the feeling of dislike of homosexuality, challenging and disapproval of it.

Etymology of a word has a strong feature: it gives you the power to decide how to perceive of the situation and the energy it describes. And there’s never just one story behind the creation of a word. A word is charged with the energy of years that needed to pass in order for us to be in a position to observe the situation and then describe it adequately and succinctly, in a word.

I challenge you to pick a word and find its origins. Once you’ve broken it down, see what each composite of the word means and then re-evaluate the word’s contemporary meaning. It’s a fascinating and eye-opening process that I find extremely interesting.

Visit for more interesting information on the topic.

This blog was written by Marina Sapountzoglou, M.D., Human Rights and Regional Development. Marina currently works with Commerce Bank, is an aspiring Human Rights Lawyer, active community volunteer and volunteer blogger with Literacy 'n' Poverty Project. Please leave your comments and email if you have any questions.

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