Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ok, we all know it’s not Wednesday, it’s Thursday, could even be Friday in some parts of the world (the international date line has always confused me some), but we’re going to pretend it’s Wednesday….for my sake.

The results of my Polldaddy poll are as follows:

Does Word Wednesday Stay?
Yes, please keep doing Word Wednesday.  0%  (0 votes)

I think you could find something else to write about.  100%  (2 votes)

Total Votes: 2

The voters have spoken – both of them!! Today will be the last Word Wednesday weekly installment. I

Almost as famous as Freud…

may choose to write a definition post in the future if a really great word comes my way, but it will be a special post and not a regular feature. However, for today (and only because I’m really curious about this one)I’ve chosen “shrink” – in the psychiatric sense – as in “she’s seeing a shrink” – as the word of the day.

From Online Etymology Dictionary:

The slang sense of “psychiatrist” is first recorded 1966, from head-shrinker.

Head-shrinker: also head-shrinker, 1926 in literal sense, from head (n.) + agent noun from shrink (v.); as U.S. slang for “psychologist,” by 1950.

From Yahoo Answers:

Some clever cynic drew a comparison between psychiatrists who mess with your head by practicing psychiatry and indigenous people (like Amazonians) who mess with your head by shrinking it (literally, like shrunken heads)

So, that caught on and people started referring to psychiatry as head shrinking. Then later that got abridged to “shrink.”

A more in-depth explanation from Dear

Originally, the word “shrink” referred primarily to psychiatrists, but over the last 20 years its meaning has broadened and now it can be used with respect to just about any professional who does counseling or psychotherapy.

“Shrink” likely originated from a commingling of the two words “head shrink” and the single word “headshrinker,” indicating that it likely originated as a disparaging reference comparing the process of psychotherapy to primitive tribal practices of shrinking the heads of enemies. Reportedly, “shrink” was first used in literature by Thomas Pynchon in his book The Crying of Lot 49 published in 1966. It figures that “shrink” had its literary birth out of the consciousness-expanding atmosphere of the 1960s.

“Shrink” has paradoxical meanings and uses and, by all analytical standards, has classic potential for connoting ambivalence (a favorite shrink word!). “Shrink” allows us to compare psychotherapy to primitive rituals, shamanism, and “sorcery” while still recognizing the more modern and scientific principles of mental wellness. “Shrink” attempts to create a balance between respect and irreverence, between affection and distancing — can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

To me, that is the essence of a good word — one that has many flavors. What sweet and sour are for taste buds, paradoxes are for the mind.

I invite you to think of “shrink” as an appropriate, minor term of endearment — a way of saying “psychiatrist” without creating that feeling that you are just being examined and not appreciated. After all, “psychiatrist” is not only a “big” word, but also a word that has potential for connoting a profession, which is mostly scientific and not very related to the humanities. As much as we psychiatrists would like to believe that psychiatry is mostly a science, by definition, since psychiatry deals with the mind at least as much as the brain, it has very little hope of being as scientific as, let’s say, microbiology.

Wait, There’s More!

    The term “shrink” really does have its fair share of different belief systems. A posted e-mail follow-up at (no longer available) suggested that the term simply refers to the idea that psychiatrists have the ability to reduce or “shrink” one’s mind into an understandable concept. Therefore, they are shrinks.

From World Wide Words:

Shrunken head guy from Beetlejuice.

QFrom Susan Korrel: How did shrink come to mean a psychiatrist? I noticed on one site they referred to the psychiatrist as a head-shrinker, which also had the meaning of a person who cuts off and preserves other people’s heads as trophies. Are the two meanings related?

A It looks pretty clear that they are, though absolute proof, as so often, cannot be forthcoming because there’s no way to find the person who invented the term and ask him. The original meaning of the term head-shrinker was in reference to a member of a group in Amazonia, the Jivaro, who preserved the heads of their enemies by stripping the skin from the skull, which resulted in a shrunken mummified remnant the size of a fist. The term isn’t that old — it’s first recorded from 1926.

All the early evidence suggests that the person who invented the psychiatrist sense worked in the movies (no jokes please). We have to assume that the term came about because people regarded the process of psychiatry as being like head-shrinking because it reduced the size of the swollen egos so common in show-business. Or perhaps they were suspicious about what psychiatrists actually did to their heads and how they did it and so made a joke to relieve the tension.

The earliest example we have is from an article in Time in November 1950 to which an editor has helpfully added a footnote to say that head-shrinker was Hollywood jargon for a psychiatrist. The term afterwards became moderately popular, in part because it was used in the film Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. Robert Heinlein felt his readers needed it to be explained when he introduced it into Time For The Stars in 1956: “‘Dr. Devereaux is the boss head-shrinker.’ I looked puzzled and Uncle Steve went on, ‘You don’t savvy? Psychiatrist.’” By the time it turns up in West Side Story on Broadway in 1957 it was becoming established.

Shrink, the abbreviation, became popular in the USA in the 1970s, though it had first appeared in one of Thomas Pynchon’s books, The Crying of Lot 49, in 1965 and there is anecdotal evidence that it was around earlier, which is only to be expected of a slang term that would have been mainly transmitted through the spoken word in its earliest days.

This is definitely the strangest image I found today, and trust me, “head shrinker” came up with some pretty strange images…

For just 855 Yen you can shrink the size of your head, slim the cheeks and iron out that double chin!


About Holly

I hope you're able to glean something from this blog, a nugget of wisdom, a new perspective, a smile or even a laugh. I enjoy getting feedback so please comment, share your story with me too. After all, we're here to help each other.
This entry was posted in ADHD, anger management, anxiety, children's mental health, coping strategies, definition, depression, etymology, GAD, OCD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Wednesday, October 10, 2012

  1. Sorry for not voting. I look forward to your new Weds. posts.

  2. Holly says:

    No worries…my mom was pointing out today how overwhelming the US election coverage was getting…and we don’t live in the US. You folks must be tired of thinking about voting. 😉

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