Homophobia

Simon Hoggart, in his diary published in the Guardian , tells us that, from an etymological point of view, this term is absolutely nonsensical. If we break it up, we see that it is made of:
Homo – it could be the prefix of Greek origin meaning "same", as in homophone (words that sound the same but don’t mean the same, like night and knight) or the Latin prefix meaning "human" (homo and homo being… homophones).
Phobia – fear, hatred of.
Hence, the word homophobia could be interpreted as either disliking/fearing the same kind of person as yourself or the whole of the human race, instead of homosexuals. The correct term could be homophiliaphobia (fear/hatred of those who like people from the same sex as theirs), but there is little chance of that one catching on.
I tried to find out when homophobia was coined to see if it would help me understand its origin, without luck. However, the American Heritage® Dictionary gives us the following etymology:
homo(sexual) + phobia.
It becomes clear that, as I suspected, homo is neither a Latin nor a Greek prefix in this instance. It is merely the shortened version of homosexual. Add to that phobia, and you get the hatred of homosexuals. It’s quite an unusual way to coin a new word and I wonder if many are born that way?
(Words, not homosexuals).

By | 2016-10-18T15:52:11+00:00 February 16th, 2004|Words|11 Comments

About the Author:

Celine
I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.

11 Comments

  1. Anthony Hope February 17, 2004 at 10:33 am

    It seems that homophobia did at one time mean “Fear of men, or aversion towards the male sex; also, fear of mankind, anthropophobia” [OED].
    The earliest citation given by the OED for that sense of the word is from 1920 — which is odd, because homophobia couldn’t be found in the OED at all (it’s conspicuously absent from the 1984 Second Edition) until the series of Additions published in 1993, which is when the above definition first appears, together with an entry for the more familiar sense of “Fear or hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality”.
    According to this webpage …
    http://www.encyclopedia4u.com/h/homophobia.html
    … homophobia is “a neologism coined by psychologist George Weinberg in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual in 1972”. However, the OED gives two earlier citations, one by Weinberg in 1971 and an earlier one from Time magazine in 1969.
    Interestingly, the webpage goes on to say that “a precursor to the word was ‘homoerotophobia’, coined by Dr Wainwright Churchill in Homosexual Behavior Among Males in 1967”, which is similar to (and slightly less comical, phonically) than the “homophiliaphobia” suggestion you quote above.
    As for words that include prefixes that look like standard prefixes but are actually shortened forms of longer words (if you see what I mean), I suspect there are quite a few. The only examples I can think of at the moment, though, are (a) “psychobabble”, where I think the psycho- is short for psychology (since we’re referring to babble about — or using the language of — psychology, rather than babble about the psyche itself), and (b) any one of a number of words beginning with metro-, short for “metropolitan”, perhaps the most recent coinage being “metrosexual”:
    http://www.wordspy.com/words/metrosexual.asp
    It’s easier to think of words that contain bits of other words (bits that aren’t traditional prefixes/suffixes) in combination — e.g. workaholic, camcorder, digerati, shockumentary. Most of them see to be fairly recent, though, and somehow faintly disreputable 😉 See here for more examples:
    http://www.askoxford.com/pressroom/archive/odenewwords
    Anyway, I’ve rambled on for long enough. Thanks for a very thought-provoking post, Céline. It was fun researching it and pretending to be a linguist — much more fun than the work I was supposed to be doing anyway 😉

  2. céline February 17, 2004 at 11:12 am

    Gosh, no Anthony, thank YOU very much for answering all my questions, asking new interesting ones and answering them as well! Have you got every edition of the OED? Sounds like I should be investing in a few of them myself…

  3. Rym Rytr February 17, 2004 at 4:18 pm

    In America, in the 1950’s Homosexuals were referred to as “Queers”. This, as most derogatory words, became what we now call Politically Incorrect. It actually had a “bad” connotation, much as any “swear” or “dirty” word has. Then the word homosexual began to be used more often and the shortened version “homo” became the insult word. If one called another a homo, that was about as derogatory as one could get! At some point, the derogatory use of queer (which meant “odd and strange”), fell away as some homosexuals used it politically, such as Vassar’s Queer Political Action Committee. At this time, someone began to use “Gay” which meant “light hearted-carefree-happy”, and it is the current Politically Correct term. Prior to the 50’s, (in the 20’s or 30’s??) “Fag” was a popular derogatory. Sissy, referring to femaleness in men was also widely used into the 60’s or so.
    A guess my point is that the use of “homo” made it an easy transition to homo-phobia.
    One thing about America. The language here is always in flux. There is street talk among ethnic groups that even the average American can’t understand, if he/she is not a member. I often say, in conversations like this, that we don’t speak English anymore, we talk `merican! :o)
    Rym Rytr (Rhyme Writer)

  4. céline February 17, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    You’re right in saying that “queer” was reclaimed by gay people Rym Rytr (nowadays a lot of universities offer courses in queer studies) and isn’t used as an insult anymore. From working in a school a few years ago, I know that “gay” is now the ultimate insult. “That’s so GAY” (2,180 hits on Google) is SO the thing to say in playgrounds.

  5. Sarah February 24, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    My (gay) friend always says his computer is “being gay” when it is broken or doing something unreasonable that is annoying him. I find it really quite odd and slightly disturbing. I don’t really know where I stand about the tired argument that if black people call each other “nigger” that’s alright, but if a white person uses that word then that’s horribly insulting, and I’m not sure that “being gay” is an equivalent, but I do feel like he’s disempowering himself every time he uses it.

  6. céline February 24, 2004 at 1:18 pm

    I know exactly what you mean. I have a few female friends who routinely call themselves “bitches”.
    I tried to embrace the word, hoping that using it would mean it would lose its impact and finally get reclaimed by women, but I’ve given up.
    It remains incredibly demeaning and when women use it, it makes me feel like they’re saying it’s ok to be insulted and to put themselves and other women down. I also feel they promote that vision of the world, best illustrated by some rap lyrics, where women are nothing but sexual objects to use and despise.

  7. Anthony Hope February 25, 2004 at 10:37 am

    > Have you got every edition of the OED?
    Ah, well, the OED’s a bit of a passion with me. Or should I say obsession? Yes, I probably should.
    > Sounds like I should be investing in a few of them myself…
    Investing is the right word. They don’t come cheap.

  8. Andréas June 15, 2004 at 12:44 pm

    As a word lover, I do find this thread very interesting.
    The American Heritage Dictionary appears to me to be rather sloppy in its etymology of homophobia and I would offer an alternative.
    According to my dictionary, ‘homo’ means man in Latin and ‘same’ in Greek. In fact I speak Greek, and the ‘homo’ prefix (meaning same) is very common and, incidentally, the opposite is ‘hetero’ (meaning different). Also, without exception, the ‘phobia’ terms are completely Greek (I say this because I have confirmed it from a book with a whole chapter devoted to them – sad but true).
    The Greek terrm for a homosexual person is ‘homophilophilos’ which can be broken down as
    Homo-philo-philos = same – gender – lover/liker. There are other terms in Greek, but this one is probably the most non-judgmental.
    Hence, homophobia is more likely a diminutive of homophilophilophobia, which is a bit of a mouthful by anyone’s standards.
    The proposed term homophiliaphobia to me means ‘hatred of the same gender’.

  9. Andréas June 16, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    Actually the term homophilophobia would mean ‘hatred of the same gender’.
    ‘homophiliaphobia’ does not really make much sense, because it means ‘hatred of lover/likers of the same’.
    I’m rambling so I’ll stop there.

  10. céline June 17, 2004 at 8:50 am

    Andréas: Are you sure about this? I am not aware of “philo” meaning “gender” (as you suggest in your “homophilophilos” example); only ever “lover”.

  11. Andréas June 17, 2004 at 11:27 am

    Hi Céline
    Yes 100% positive – the words are homophones but they are different genders
    O filos (masculine – the friend)
    To filos (neutral – the gender)
    Combining forms usually end in o.
    bye

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