Hysteria: A Journey to the Other End of the Earth.
With over 5,000 thousand years of history, the Chinese language is one of the world's oldest languages. It contains words and phrases of all kinds and can be used to express everything. It is very uncommon to see words being absorbed into Chinese unless there is something new that needs a name in Chinese. These imported words are mostly nouns, such as 坦克(Tank), 沙发(Sofa), 吉他(Guitar), etc. However, exceptions do exist: 歇斯底里(Hysteria or hysterical), which is an adjective in Chinese mostly used to describe a person in an extremely crazy or excited condition. It is interesting to see that a fundamental Chinese word for people's emotions was actually imported from English. What's its origin? When and how did it get into Chinese language? Are the two versions of the word still the same in the two different cultures? By answering these questions, this essay is going to unveil the mystery of "hysteria".
The Definitions and Origins.
In the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "hysteria" has two definitions. Pathologically, hysteria stands for "a functional disturbance of the nervous system, characterized by such disorders as anæsthesia, hyperæsthesia, convulsions, etc., and usually attended with emotional disturbances and enfeeblement or perversion of the moral and intellectual faculties". Another meaning, which is more commonly used, is "morbidly excited condition; unhealthy emotion or excitement". It originates from the Greek "hystera" (ὑστέρα), which means uterus. According to Wikipedia, in the Western world, until the seventeenth century, hysteria referred to a medical condition thought to be particular to women and caused by disturbances of the uterus. Then, by the mid to late 19th century, hysteria (or sometimes female hysteria) came to refer to what is today generally considered to be "female sexual dysfunction".