Phobias are fears gone wild, fears that provoke such severe anxiety that they become debilitating, interfering with a person’s ability to live a normal life. The word itself comes from the Greek “phóbos,” meaning fear or panic, and as many as one in 10 American adults (and two in 10 American teenagers) can be spurred into panic attacks by the presence or even the thought of certain objects, situations, or living things. (Speaking of fears, this is why people are scared to drive their cars.)
Some phobias are common. An estimated 12.5% of the nation’s population, for instance, suffers from claustrophobia, the fear of being confined in enclosed spaces. Acrophobia (fear of heights), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), and equinophobia (fear of horses) are also fairly widespread.
But some other phobias seem so strange – so unlikely – that it’s difficult to believe they’re real. Some seem to write their own punchline: What parent hasn’t at one point or another experienced ephebiphobia, the fear of teenagers? And what lexicographical joker decided that the fear of long words should be called hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia?
Some “phobias” are indeed made up with humorous intent. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a reference, in 1824, to a 19th-century clean freak who “laboured under a perpetual dustophobia, and a comical disease it was.” The dictionary also cites “cyclophobia,” said to have been produced by the cycling craze back in 1896, and a 1902 reference to “L.C.C.-phobia [= dread of the London County Council].” (These are some popular slang words nobody uses anymore.)
Jokes aside, some unlikely-sounding phobias are genuine. There apparently really are people who are afraid of ducks (anatidaephobia), of paper (papyrophobia), and of the figure 8 (octophobia), among many other things – and for those afflicted, they’re no laughing matter.
To assemble a list of 20 of the strangest phobias, 24/7 Tempo reviewed articles on the subject from websites including NHS, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Medical News Today, Healthline, MedicineNet, FearOf, TalkSpace, and Verywell Mind.
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