Archive for Sunday, October 7, 2001

You can pick your phobia, but leave me out of it

October 7, 2001


Have you ever been terrorized by phobias? Me, too only not necessarily by my own.

Take the time my parents, sisters and I were visiting relatives in my mother's small Oklahoma hometown. Then newly licensed and pretty proud of it I offered to drive Aunt Vera to the grocery store.

On our return, I drove into her back yard and she, clutching a big sack of groceries in each arm, started to exit the car via the passenger door. Suddenly, her son Mike's pet crow helicoptered to a landing on the open passenger door, locked eyes with Aunt Vera and screeched, "CAW!"

There was an explosion of groceries as Aunt Vera's 5-foot frame scrambled to climb over both me and the steering wheel in an effort to escape through my door. I remember loud screaming much of it mine and being clawed by my aunt and pelted with canned goods and pastries. Aunt Vera, I learned that day, suffered from ornithophopia (fear of birds).

Why, I wonder, couldn't she have suffered from scoleciphobia (fear of worms) like her six brothers and five sisters, one of whom is my mother. Family legend claims that my maternal grandmother bequeathed her worm phobia to 11 of her 12 children.

One story has Grandma Shellhammer the same woman who single-handedly dispatched a copperhead lurking in her closet chasing a grown son through the pasture trying to get him to pick off a worm crawling on her dress. True or not, the mental picture of that incident is definitely entertaining.

As babies, both grandson Gabe and granddaughter Sammi suffered from coulrophobia (fear of clowns). Well, think about it how would you feel if you were enjoying a parade when someone with a rainbow fright wig, floppy shoes and a stark white face came up to you and honked a horn in YOUR face? Or perhaps it wasn't the clown that caused their panic; leukophobia is fear of the color white.

After riding home one hot summer day in an unair-conditioned tow truck squeezed between my friend Estel and the driver who obviously shunned both showers and deodorant, it is amazing I didn't develop osphresiophobia (fear of body odor). I'm betting that my earlier exposure to the soiled diapers of two sons immunized me to that particular phobia.

I'm not sure that husband Ray has a phobia, but if he does, I'm pretty sure it's frigophobia (fear of cold) or chionophobia (fear of snow). I base that on a conversation we had one July when we spent several nights at a ski lodge in Colorado. "It would be fun to come out here in the winter," I said, "because I'd like to see these mountains with snow on them."

Ray's reply was short and to the point: "Then buy a postcard."

Some phobias are understandable, especially those where the object of fear is so terrifying to the average person that it requires more than one word to describe it. For example, fear of death or dying: thanatophobia and necrophobia. Or fear of pain: algiophobia, ponophobia, odynophobia or odynephobia. Speaking of pain, odontophobia is fear of dental surgery and aichmophobia is fear of needles (two phobias with which I can identify).

Phasmophobia is fear of ghosts. I am astounded, however, that I cannot find a word describing fear of vampires because there must be zillions of people who have that phobia. And vampires likely have their own phobia: eisoptrophobia (fear of mirrors or seeing oneself in a mirror). Fat chance of doing the latter if you're a vampire.

Hydrophobia is fear of water and pyrophobia is fear of fire. Frankly, I think fire itself is likely a sufferer of hydrophobia. I suppose that many doctors must be tormented by liticaphobia (fear of lawsuits). And a few lawyers of my acquaintance but, thankfully, only a few deserve to have hadephobia (fear of hell).

Lots of people have triskadekaphobia (fear of the number 13). But I want to meet the individual surely there can't be more than one who suffers from arachibutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth). I'd like to suggest that a little jelly on the sandwich might provide relief.

The fact is that phobias don't have to be traumatic provided you stay away from aunts with ornithophobia.

Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence.

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