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Chloephobia

Despite its appearance, chloephobia isn’t a morbid dislike of girls named Chloe. A rare appearance was here:

A woman who developed a fear of newspapers after watching her mother hit her father over the head with one has told how her unusual phobia affects her life every day. Diane Freelove, 49, cannot bear the smell of newspapers, hates to touch them, and cannot even look at them. The mother-of-three from Rochester, Kent, has suffered from a rare condition known as chloephobia for the last 25 years.

Daily Mail, 27 Jan. 2014.

The story was widely reproduced in other newspapers and online, giving the word much publicity. But it presents a puzzle.

The only previous example that I’ve so far found was in the Western Daily Press of Bristol in May 2013. It appears in no dictionary or official descriptions of medical conditions and is even absent from those rather jokey lists of phobias to be found online. The source and etymology are obscure. Greek chloe can refer to green things, especially grass and the first green shoots of spring (it’s a relative of chloros, pale green, hence our chlorophyll and chlorine), but hardly fits the context.

Reader Karen Murdarasi wondered if the word was actually a corruption. She pointed out that one sense of the classical Greek kleos was rumour or report, a fair description of the function of newspapers. That would make the word cleophobia. This turns up online a few times as a name (and several more as a transcription error for oleophobia, a tendency for a material to reject oils or oily substances), but nowhere in a relevant context.

Another reader, Andy Behrens, may have solved the problem. He pointed out that chloephobia appears on the answers.com website as the answer to the question “what is the fear of newspapers called?”. The site’s history function showed that it was first posted on 14 April 2008 (though this has since changed). This is long before the word appears anywhere else and is very probably the source of the two known subsequent usages

Unfortunately, the answer was a bald assertion without any supporting evidence and so we know nothing about its source; it may even have been a joke. Whatever it was, it has established chloephobia as the term for a fear of newspapers, a disquieting (you might say horrifying) instance of the power of the unedited internet to propagate error.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 8 Feb. 2014

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-chl1.htm
Last modified: 8 February 2014.