I’m not much of a linguistics expert, but I do have an unexplainable fascination with the meaning of words. I especially like long words, pieced together from other languages. It often broadens the meaning of a word, far beyond what we have reduced it down to, in our modern culture. Words become richer when we know where they came from.
So it is with my new discovery of the day: agoraphobia. I was under the impression, from popular use, that it meant a fear of open spaces. My mind conjured up pictures of vast green fields and snowy mountains, Julie Andrews twirling and singing, and someone right next to her, finding it difficult to breathe.
Not so, as I found out. Agoraphobia also refers to a fear of very crowded places, like malls and theatres and airports, as it should, because “agora” is originally a Greek word meaning “marketplace”. So “agoraphobia” literally means “fear of the marketplace”!! Hmmm……a slightly different image than my Julie Andrews version, but one which makes sense because shopping does bring me out in a cold sweat.
It might also amuse you to know that the marketplace in ancient Greece was also the public square and place for political assembly. So we can also say that agoraphobia means "fear of the political assembly". You might agree there have been some pretty scary political assemblies recently.
So, if the current political season is making it hard for you to breathe, you can always blame your agoraphobia……