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Everything You Wanted to Know About Phobias But Were Afraid to Ask

As part of my never-ending quest to force knowledge on my students against their will, I’ve been teaching them vocabulary.

They don’t love it. Especially since they found out that they had to learn how to spell the words too.

I’ve been building my lesson themes around the Latin word roots, because otherwise we’re just memorizing a dictionary. And that’s how I came across a huge list of phobias. There are a lot of phobias out there—way too many, I would even say. And they all have names, like enough people were scared of a given thing that they decided it would be far more convenient to just make a word for it.

Sure, some of these phobias are serious conditions, but a lot of them sound like people are just looking for things to be afraid of. Kids in war-torn countries aren’t scared of bananas or the number 13. So today, we’re going to take some of these fears and shine a light on them, except for photophobia, which is the fear of bright lights.

Claustrophobia—fear of enclosed spaces. Other phobias might be more common, but this is the one that’s definitely used the most in everyday conversation. People are proud to have it. They say, “I’m a little bit claustrophobic here!” like that’s going to suddenly cause everyone to congratulate them and then back off.

Aerophobia—fear of flying. And it doesn’t help to know that planes are hands-down the safest way for a human being to fly, or that for thousands of years, the only method of human beings achieving flight was angry giants. You’re in a tube held aloft through some science you don’t understand, and the person holding your life in his hands is someone who, every time he gets on the speaker, has to tell you that this is your captain speaking. Who else would it be?

Anatidaephobia—the fear that you’re being watched by a duck. Maybe from behind a newspaper. I don’t know why this duck is choosing to watch a crazy person.

Pediophobia—fear of dolls. Their eyes are always open, looking at you, like some kind of duck.

Sidonglobophobia—fear of cotton balls. “Don’t be afraid of cotton balls,” you can tell them. “They’re soft.” But your words will fall on deaf ears, because these people don’t use Q-tips.

Alektorophobia—fear of chickens. Like you go to the zoo, and all the animals are in cages except for some random chickens that are just wandering around for some reason.

“They got out? These are the escape artists?”

It’s them and the ducks. And one peacock. Though I suppose it’s possible that the zoo management does it on purpose. (“Should we bother building a cage for the chickens?” “Nah; where are they gonna go?”)

Arachnophobia—fear of spiders. A lot of people say, “Yeah, but spiders are our friends; they eat insects.” Well, I don’t know who you hang out with, but I don’t have any friends who eat insects. To me, a spider is an insect. I don’t really see the difference. I’m not walking up to them and counting their legs. All I know is that I have slightly fewer harmless little insects crawling around, because the big scary insects that drop down from the ceiling are eating them.

Theophobia—fear of God. But not the kind of fear that you’re thinking about. Or even the kind like where you’re afraid that a duck is constantly watching you. It’s more like arachnophobia, where you’re afraid that God is suddenly going to drop down from the ceiling at any moment and bite you.

Triskaidekaphobia—fear of bar mitzvah boys. Actually, it’s the fear of the number 13. In fact, a lot of buildings specifically don’t have 13 floors—they just stop at 12. Which is ridiculous, because isn’t there also a basement?

Pentheraphobia—fear of mothers-in-law. Plural, for some reason. You’re afraid of yours and other people’s. And you can’t talk to your wife about it, because she thinks that your mother is the mother-in-law. And speaking of mothers-in-law…

Telephonophobia—fear of talking on the phone. I might have that. When I’m on the phone, I make it extremely obvious that my priority is to get the other person off the phone as quickly as possible.

Bananaphobia—fear of bananas. Though the more common fear by far seems to be touching the brown spot. (Also, apparently the Latin word for banana is banana, from the Hebrew banana, meaning banana.)

Chrometophobia—fear of money. This isn’t the fear of not having money. That’s called “adulthood.” It’s the fear of dealing with money at all. And who wouldn’t be scared of money? It’s germy paper festooned with dead people and eyeballs and giant birds and you have no idea how it works, yet you want to collect them all, like gedolim cards.

I recommend immersion therapy.

Omphalophobia—fear of belly buttons. Plural. And why not? They’re weird. They’re a small alcove that serves as evidence that you were born. The soft spot on your head goes away, so why doesn’t your belly button? It just sits around, collecting dust. Literally.

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia—fear of long words. That word is just mean.

Doctor: “I have your diagnosis, but you’re not going to like it.”

Patient: “To be honest, I didn’t even like the word diagnosis.”

My students actually have this fear, because as soon as I put this word on the board, they asked me if they need to know it for the spelling test.

By Mordechai Schmutter


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He also has six books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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