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Fears and Phobias

There may well be superstitious souls out there who stayed in bed all day yesterday, thus avoiding what-ever slings and arrows that outrageous fortune held in store for them.

The reason? Triskaidekaphobia - or fear of Friday the 13th. An altogether splendid word, which owes more to the ingenuity of modern quasi-classical wordsmiths than to ancient usage. Nevertheless it is a useful invention which well describes the frailty of an unreasonable fear.

Another word for irrational fear is panic, no more logical in its suffering although it at least has the benefit of a genuinely ancient pedigree. It stems from the Greek "panikon deima" - Literally "the fear caused by Pan"

An important nuance of panic is nameless fear ... fuelled by the unexplained noises of the night, scuffling of dead leaves when neither man nor beast is to be seen, and strange sighs and strange sighs on the windless air. These sounds and their accompanying terror were attributed to Pan, the God of nature - in retrospect, a fear not all that unreasonable when sprites and spirits lived in every grove, stream and woodland.

True Panic - "Phobos" to the Greeks - was something universal, inhabiting the darkness, the air, the sky and the Earth itself. Long names described the circumstances of the condition: claustrophobia if it happened in confined spaces agoraphobia if in the open.

Now the fearful can match their anxieties with a whole catalogue of ingeniously named phobias from aillurophobia (fear of cats) to xenophobia (fear of foreigners) Apart from the inventiveness of all the phobias, joining together Greek elements has given us a host of useful every-day words

Among them are chrysanthemum (gold + flower), cosmopolitan (world + citizen) phosphorous (light + bearer) photography (light + writing), helicopter (spiral + wing) and telephone (far off + voice) Strictly speaking, television (far + seeing) should be telescope, but Galileo got off the mark faster than John Logie Baird. He was thus able to coin a pure Greek derivative for his invention, forcing Baird to resort to a hybrid based on the Latin suffix "Video."

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