Header image of books


You’re likely to find this word used by animal rights activists in reference to what they see as the degrading effect of zoos on the animals they contain. Many animals, especially the large carnivores, become deeply depressed, even psychotic, as the result of captivity. Symptoms of zoochosis include nervous pacing, head rocking, and self-mutilation. The problem is perhaps most acute with polar bears, which have proved especially difficult to keep sane, and which often show disturbed behaviour such as swimming for hours in small circles. (The Central Park Zoo in New York had to call in an animal psychologist to find ways to give its polar bear, Gus, a more varied and challenging environment.) The word, a blend of zoo and psychosis, seems to date from the early 1990s, but is still fairly specialist and hasn’t — so far as I know — yet made it to any dictionary.

In the zoological gardens outside Ho Chi Minh City, dazed elephants swing their trunks from side to side, their feet tethered by chains and their repetitive motions betraying signs of a dementia known as “zoochosis”.

Time International, Oct. 1998

Also known as “zoochosis”, the problem is characterised by swaying the head and pacing up and down in their enclosure incessantly in a trance-like state, indicating they may be suffering from boredom.

Independent on Sunday, Nov. 1999

Search World Wide Words

Support this website!

Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 27 Nov. 1999

Advice on copyright

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-zoo1.htm
Last modified: 27 November 1999.