Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What it is, what it's not

I shall start this entry with a disclaimer. The purpose of this exercise is to remember what I'm saying when I'm saying something. This is not a proclamation condemning people who use strong words lightly, and I'm not even saying I don't do the same. I make this disclaimer because this is an expression I catch myself using a lot, one a lot of other folks use, and I don't want to make people feel all guilty and icky.

So, without further apologies, here's the new feature I'm calling "What it is, what it's not."


What is: Obsessive-compulsive disorder. A serious and sometimes debilitating mental disorder characterized by severe anxiety combined with behaviors aimed at alleviating that anxiety. 

What it's not: Perfectionism, meticulousness, focus, caution, idiosyncrasy, fastidiousness, or attention to detail.

For instance:

If you wash your hands for a really long time because you don't want to get sick, you're fastidious. If you wash your hands until they bleed and still feel like you're crawling with germs, you may have OCD.

If you proofread a paper half a dozen times before you turn it in, you're meticulous. If you're so afraid of typos that you're terrified to write the paper, and it's jeopardizing your academic career, you may have OCD.


You know what's weird that just occurred to me? We're so prudish that we call rooms with toilets "bathrooms," but little old ladies use the word "anal" in polite conversation. I don't know about you, but I'd way rather think about a toilet than an anus. Toilets can be clean and shiny, and anuses (actually ani, if we're being technical, I think)... not so much.

Ever wonder where this one came from? I mean, if someone's all meticulous and obsessed with details, you don't really associate that kind of person with gross body parts. Well, I don't anyway. This one's got Freud written all over it. His theory is that people who are all meticulous and fussy as grown ups didn't like to poop when they were babies - they were anal retentive. He also said that people who liked to poop when they were kids could turn out to be artistic, free-wheeling, loud... they were anal expulsive. So anal could really apply to either. Making me anal. Rock.

Funny thing about Freud... while his research and writings on psychology were ground-breaking, a lot of his theories, like the whole childhood pooping thing, have been dismissed by later research and stuff. Yet his theories - like the one about big cars compensating for small naughty bits - are immortal in pop culture. 

Maybe my next entry won't involve poop...

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