Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Time for a Wednesday Word post - - it's only been a month or two since the last one.  I'll just play my "busy life" card.

This has always been one of my favorite words as far as the etymology behind it:  hysterical.

It's been around for a few centuries - at least the 1600s. It comes from the Latin  hystericus meaning "of the womb" and the Greek hysterikos meaning "of the womb, suffering from the womb."

Yes, you read that correctly. "Of the womb" - though if you realize that "hysterical" sounds close to "hysterectomy" - you may not be surprised.

So, basically, originally being "hysterical" (Or hysteria in the 1800s) was a woman-only neurotic condition in which our uterus was malfunctioning. I've heard before that early on they literally thought the uterus was wandering around the body.

According to my etymology dictionary it changed it's meaning to simply "very funny" and "uncontrollable laughter" by 1939.

While I recognize the etymology of this word as a signifier of a sexism so strong that it shaped words and medical perceptions - my feminist side is not strong enough to find the absurdity of by-gone eras offensive in this case- I just find it, well, hysterical.


  1. Maybe this is a little too private of a topic for your blog (in which case, feel free to delete this comment)...

    But I read in a book of random facts once that dildos were originally created for doctors to administer to female patients who were in hysterics.

    Apparently orgasming was the cure for women when they were stressed out! lol

  2. I've heard the same thing April said too!