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hysteria, n.

Frequency (in current use):?
Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin hysteria.
Etymology: < post-classical Latin hysteria (1696 or earlier), formed as abstract noun to hystericus ?hysteric adj.; compare -ia suffix1.
Compare French hystérie ? disease, syndrome affecting women (1728), extreme excitement or agitation (1834), Italian isteria ? (1788), German Hysterie ? (1776).
Hysteria was originally thought to be due to a disturbance of the uterus and its functions; compare hysteric n. and adj. ? and the German term Mutterweh.

?1. Medicine. Originally: a (supposed) physical disorder of women attributed to displacement or dysfunction of the uterus, and characterized particularly by a sensation of fullness in the abdomen and chest, with choking or breathlessness (= hysterical passion n. at hysterical adj. and n. Compounds) (now historical); (later also) a (supposed) disorder with similar symptoms affecting men (now historical). In later use: a disorder characterized by neurological symptoms (such as an inability to perform voluntary movements, loss of vision or hearing, seizure-like episodes, etc.), often accompanied by exaggeratedly or inappropriately emotional behaviour, originally attributed to disease or injury of the nervous system and later thought to be functional or psychogenic in origin.In recent classifications of diseases the names conversion disorder or functional neurological symptom disorder are preferred to hysteria.The disorder attributed to the uterus was known earlier in English by names including rising of the mother, suffocation of the mother, and hysteric passion or hysterical passion.Arctic hysteria, conversion hysteria, mass hysteria, etc.: see the first element.

1757?? L. Carter Diary 9 Mar. in Carter Family Papers (Alderman Libr. MS) ?? She goes on with Floods hysteria medicine.
1772?? J. M. Adair Comm. Princ. & Pract. Physic 128?? Hysteria seems to be a disease of the whole nervous system; the other [sc. hypochondriasis] chiefly confined to the stomach and intestines; as for the share the uterus has in either..it is often accidental.
1827?? M. Hall Comm. Dis. Females 86?? Hysteria is characterized, indeed, by affecting in the same, or in different instances, singly or conjointly, all the several systerms which constitute the animal frame,—the organs of animal and of organic life; the different sets of muscles..; the functions of the head, the heart, the stomach, &c.
1874?? W. B. Carpenter Princ. Mental Physiol. ii. 79?? Hysteria; a state of the Nervous system which is characterized by its peculiar excitability, but in which there is no such fixed tendency to irregular action as would indicate any positive disease.
1924?? J. Riviere et al. tr. S. Freud Coll. Papers I. viii. 153?? Hysteria's close association with the female sex and..the preference of the male for the obsessional neurosis.
1997?? Jrnl. Amer. Acad. Relig. 65 107?? Hysteria is actually an old term for a variety of disorders that are now called conversion disorders and dissociative disorders (American Psychiatric Association).
2009?? New Yorker 30 Nov. 78/1?? The vibrator was used by physicians to enhance a form of genital massage, which had been practiced for centuries as a treatment for hysteria.

1757—2009(Hide quotations)


?2. Overwhelming, uncontrollable emotion or agitation, esp. as a collective reaction to an event of (perceived) importance or significance; behaviour characterized by such emotion or agitation. See also mass hysteria n. at mass n.2 Compounds 1a(a).

1839?? E. A. Poe Fall House of Usher in Burton's Gentleman's Mag. Sept. 150?? There was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes—an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor.
1847?? C. Bront? Jane Eyre (1848) I. vii. 98?? I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up my head, and took a firm stand on the stool.
1877?? J. Morley Crit. Misc. 2nd Ser. 256?? Those of us who dislike literary hysteria.
1897?? F. N. Maude Voluntary v. Compulsory Service 119?? A wave of humanitarian hysteria capable of wrecking any Government we have ever had.
1928?? Play Pictorial No. 310 p. vii?? Worked themselves into a state of collective hysteria highly discreditable to themselves and acutely unpleasant to everybody else.
2006?? N.Y. Times (National ed.) 5 Nov. ix. 2/1?? But social critics detect an element of hysteria in the germaphobia of Americans and suggest that at its root is a fear of a dangerous, out-of-control world.

1839—2006(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, June 2020).