Before we get to the fear of newspapers story, a brief introduction to a thoughtful word maven.
Michael Quinion in Britain runs an insightful word origins website called World Wide Words, which is a free newsletter that goes out by email and catalogs in witty and wise selections how the English language is forever changing.
“World Wide Words tries to record at least some part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, the background to words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech,” Quinion says.
Some stats: his newsletter, in operation for over 17 years, goes out to 36,000 subscribers by email, plus thousands more through RSS, Twitter and Facebook. I’ve been getting the emails for a few years now and love it.
Now to the story at hand: In a recent newsletter, Quinion told readers how a Florida man emailed him the other day to ask about a new word he had come across called “chloephobia”, which, according to Quinion, ”seems to be the newest member of a vast class of names for irrational fears.”
In his witty way, he notes: “It’s not a morbid dislike of girls named Chloe but a fear of newspapers.”
According to Quinion’s sources and research, this term recently “appeared in the Daily Mail in Britain on January 27, 2014 and the story has since been widely reproduced [on social media]. The UK article claimed that one chloephobia sufferer’s problems began some 25 years ago ‘when she saw her mother jokily hit her father over the head with a newspaper’.”
Quinion says that the earliest example he has found so far “was in the Western Daily Press of Bristol in May of 2013 but the source and etymology of the word are obscure.”
Baffled, the word British word maven is still curious where the term came from and where else it might have appeared online or in print. No doubt, he will be hearing from some of his worldwide readers and they will offer suggestions and clues and Quinion will publish an update in the near future.
In the meantime, is this for real? Chloephobia? And in some future event, someone witnesses their mother jokily his their father over the head with an iPad or an iPhone, will a new slang term emerge for an irrational fear of this happening again in that person’s life?
A fear of newspapers starts when you find a dead fish wrapped in a newspaper in the back seat of your car. (A Mafia way of saying you are going to be murdered soon.)
Or it can be caused when you were a dog in your former life and were punished with a rolled up newspaper on your snout when you were a bad dog.
I could go on, but it’s time for lunch.
RE: Mr Quinion first said that the earliest example he has found “was in the Western Daily Press of Bristol UK in May 2013 and no doubt, he would be hearing from some of his worldwide readers offering suggestions and clues which Quinion will publish in an update.
UPDATE HERE: Dan Perlman wrote to Mr Quinion’s website, opining: “Purely speculative and mayhaps completely off-base, but as a pop-culture reference that would fit with the timeline, Chloe Sullivan is the newspaper editor in the Smallville series (young Superman), which has generated storylines in related comic books and a spin-off show dedicated to her ‘adventures’ in the newspaper world.”
Karen Murdarasi told him that she wondered if the word was actually a ”corruption”. She pointed out that one sense of the classical Greek ”kleos” was rumor or report, a fair description of the function of newspapers. That would make the word ”cleophobia”, which turns up online a few times as a name (and several more as an error for ”oleophobia”, a tendency for a material to reject oils or oily substances), but nowhere in a relevant context.
And Andy Behrens pointed out to Mr Quinion by email that chloephobia is the answer to the question “what is the fear of newspapers called?” on the answers.com website, which was first posted on April 14, 2008. Way earliest citation. This is long before the word otherwise appears and is very probably the source of the two known subsequent usages, especially the one in the Daily Mail that has been widely reproduced online and was the stimulus for my piece last week.
Quinion’s conclusion: “Unfortunately, the answer was a bald assertion without 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.”
And notice Mr Quinion writes internet in the lowercase style which prevails in the UK and is now part of the webface at Gawker, Wired, and Buzzfeed, too, in the USA.
It doesnt matter what the official name is for this, i was glad to read that there are more people like me. Because yes, i cant stand being around newspapers. I dont want to touch them, smell them (because yes, the smell is so dominant, it really gives me the creepes), or even see them. The hardest part of this “condition” is travelling with public transportation. At home, i can avoid newspapers, i have a sign at my door, and when i visit my family they know they have to through them.away before i come to visit them (when they put them away in a closet or whatever, i can still smell them).. but in public transportation, you cant avoid them.. sooo many people who read them.. or leave them at their seats when they leave the train.. i cant sit at a chair when there is a newspaper lying there, i cant touch them.. so i have to find a seat where no people are reading.. cant stand the smell so no people next, in front of me or behind me should have them.. its horrible!!
And nooo.. my parents never hit eachother with a newspaper 😉 it just grow and started to get worser and worser
But i see a bright future, thanx to the e readers and i pads!
(Sorry for the bad english, im from the netherlands)
I have been searching for years and finally found someone who shares my exact fear of newspaper!!! I can’t even be in the same room as them- I can smell it a mile away and refuse to touch or be around it. I think it stems from my dislike if touching dirty money when I was little but that is all I can think of. My friends and family think I am so strange, but the simple act if seeing some read a paper, and eat their good at he same time, makes me run for the hills!!! I freak out!!! I don’t know if I will ever get over this fear but at least, from what it sounds, I’m not alone anymore!!!
holy!! hello guys I’m from hong kong n I have the exact same fear. hate to touch them. hate to see ppl reading them or holding it. If ppl accidentally touch me with newspaper I’ll freak out n need to clean with sanitizer. extremely sensitive with the smell. If there’s newspaper around I’ll immediately know n walk as far away as possible. never ever touch them. If I do need to touch them I’ll wear plastic gloves n wear a face mask. so… anyone else??? pls share!!
Unless you don’t go out in the morning, it is not possible to avoid newspapers in Hong Kong. There are too many free newspapers and many people are reading them on buses/MTR trains.
OMG! I thought I’m the only one!
It’s so strange to say I’m afraid of newspapers because it just makes no sence. Im 17 now and I’m still hoing to school. For me the worst of all is, when someone rips a piece of the newspaper or if it gets wet.. If i only see that on TV I could actually throw up! And if someone gets near to my face with one, I’ll get a panic atack, cry and run away.. it’s so horrible..
I’m afraid of newspapers, it’s a real thing. I have been ever since I was a little girl, I felt sick whenever the class would pull out newspapers and start cutting and gluing them for an activity. Paper mache freaked me out the most. The smell, I just could never stand it for as long as I can remember. My ex wasn’t allowed to have a newspaper in the house. If I’m standing in a check out line and someone stands behind me holding a newspaper, I have to move away to another line. If I’m at someone’s house and there’s one lying on the table, I can’t go in the room. The worst part is I’ve always been sort of ashamed of it and felt like there was something wrong with me cause everybody else just holds newspapers like it’s nothing! I don’t tell people about my fear of newspapers because I know they won’t understand, that they’ll think it’s a joke. I’ve just gotten so good at quietly avoiding them for 28 years that nobody even notices.
CJ: A lot of phobias seem strange or funny to people who don’t have them. But that’s just what they are—a mental issue that makes things affect you differently than other people. They shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. You seem to do all right dealing with it by avoiding them, but a psychiatrist could probably help you deal with it in some other way if you wanted. But that’s your choice and nobody else’s. It’s your life; you should live it how you want to.