Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Shudder at the Thought

Shudder, shiver, and quiver intersect--nay, practically collide--at various places, though they are not totally interchangeable.

A shudder can be quite strong: “a convulsive tremor of the body occasioned by fear, repugnance, or chill” [OED]. On the other hand, it may be more mild: “a tremulous or vibratory movement; a quiver” [OED].

A quiver is a tremble (a slight, rapid movement) or, if applied to the human voice, a quaver.

A shiver is a quivering or a trembling, often occasioned by cold or by an emotional reaction.

I muse on this because I recently came across the word phrictopathic, composed of two Greek word parts: phriktos, producing a shudder, and pathos, a disease. Dorland’s American Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 12th Edition, defines it as “causing a shudder: a term applied to a peculiar shuddering sensation caused by irritating a hysteric anesthetic area during recovery.”

The word part phricto- seems so eminently usable that I was surprised to find it nowhere except in this single word. Aren’t there any phrictophobes out there who hate the thought of a disruptive shudder and become positively phrictofugal, or any phrictomaniacs who love the exquisite feeling that a shudder sends through the body, much as the French cherish a frisson? Phrictophilia should send a thrilling wave of tremors through a crowd. Of course, if the shudders turned to uncontrollable spasms, the victims would experience phrictalgia and have to call in a phrictologist.

SIDEBAR: Letter from Ernest Jones to Sigmund Freud, June 6, 1909

SIDEBAR: The Brothers Grimm: The Boy Who Learned How to Shudder


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