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Ephebiphobia

Pronounced /ɛˈfiːbifəʊbɪə/Help with pronunciation

The modern concern with the problems of youth and especially the problems caused by young people has perhaps made it inevitable that this word would be created. It refers to a fear and loathing of adolescents by adults.

Tanya Byron, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, has recently made ephebiphobia better known by using it in a lecture. Despite a comment by Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail on 29 March that she had invented it, she certainly hadn’t. The earliest example I’ve so far found is in the title of Kirk Astroth’s article Beyond Ephebiphobia: Problem Adults or Problem Youths? in Phi Delta Kappan for January 1993. He pointed out then that the attitude behind the word was hardly new: “Nearly every generation of young people has been chastised for being ‘out of control’ or aberrant in some way. Adult claims of degeneration among the young can be found in nearly every previous decade.” Here’s another early use:

Many, if not most, adults dislike junior high kids. They simply don’t like being around them. Others suffer from what has been called ephebiphobia, a fear of adolescents.

Junior High Ministry, by Wayne Rice, 1997.

The word derives from ephebe, the classical Greek word that meant a young man aged between 18 and 20 who undertook military service.

You may not know the word, but you’ve probably had the feeling. “Ephebiphobia”, or “fear of youth”, is one of the most enduring phenomena in our society — and it’s more prevalent than ever.

Daily Telegraph, 17 Mar. 2009.

Prof Byron, clinical psychologist, broadcaster and Government advisor, will address the growing issue of ephebiphobia, the fear of young people. She will argue that society demonises children, rather than the teenagers being the problem themselves.

Liverpool Daily Post, 3 Mar. 2009.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 9 May 2009

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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.

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Last modified: 9 May 2009.