Senseless emotional frenzy which is unfortunately common to the human condition. Sometimes it is the result of simple panic, but too often, it is generated by a small group of people, usually corporations, politicians, or the media, who are seeking to stir up strong feelings on a particular topic.

Once upon a time, it was believed that only women suffered from hysteria (the word itself is derived from the Greek word for the womb), but nowadays, we've all had ample opportunity to observe many, many hysterical males in action.

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her
laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were
only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I
was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary
recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her
throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An
elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly
spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty
green iron table, saying: "If the lady and gentleman
wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and
gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden ..." I
decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be
stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might
be collected, and I concentrated my attention with
careful subtlety to this end.

- T.S. Eliot

Please notice that Webster 1913's definition of hysteria was written in...1913. Today, we would call it a manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 1914, World War I broke out, and all of a sudden thousands of cases of Hysteria suddenly appeared among men (although it was usually called shell-shock).

Through the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud and his new technique of psychoanalysis, it was discovered that Hysteria was almost always caused by repressed trauma -- the subject had experienced something too horrible for the mind to cope with (such as physical or sexual abuse, or a soldier's best buddy's guts suddenly splattered all over), and the mind repressed it, causing mental feedback loops that resulted in the symptoms of bizarre behavior.

Hysteria patients made up the largest contingent of mental hospital residents during the Victorian Era. Whenever you look back at that era and are tempted to long for its seemingly genteel lifestyle, remember the minds that this repressive society destroyed.

Also, a festival at Argos in which swine were sacrificed to Aphrodite.

From the Greek hys 'pig' (that kind of swine... not the kind who leave orange-juice stains in library books or downvote your nodes), with a pun on mystery, the more usual kind of Greek festival.

It is not recorded what Aphrodite did with all the dead swine. In fact, the more I think about it, the less I want to know.

From Hippocrates till the early twentieth century symptoms like inexplicable paralysis, rage and nervous breakdowns were explained to be caused by a disease from the womb, called 'hysteria' (hystera is the Greek word for womb).

Around 1880 French neurologist Martin Charcot researched the differences between the symptoms of hysteria, epilepsy and psychic disorders. He put that there had to be a physical cause of hysteria, and found out that this physical cause was not to be found in the womb, yet in the central nervous system. Even though he gave many public lectures with hypnosis-experiments on women, Charcot denied that hysteria would be a gender-sensitive disorder. His experiments were of great influence on the work of Sigmund Freud, a frequent visitor of Charcot's lectures in Paris.

As stated in the Webster's 1913 definition, Hysteria can bring rise to imaginary sensations. One method of demonstrating that somebody has Hysteria is by proving that some sensation the patient reports is physiologically impossible.

A classic way of doing this requires a tuning fork. The medical practitioner strikes the fork and presses the handle sequentially to two points on the patient's head: about six inches above each eye on the top of the head. The patient might report that they hear the fork louder in one ear than in the other. If they are not hard of hearing, this is impossible, and they have Hysteria. The reason for this is that the sound generated by the tuning fork is not heard via normal air conduction, but rather by bone conduction. The skull is a solid bone, which enables it to conduct sound more proficiently than air. In air conduction, the sound dissipates quickly and it is understandable that something heard in one ear might not be heard at all in the other. Given the nature of bone, however, the sound waves are conducted at equal intensity to the sound sensing cochlear nerves of both ears. As such, a person should hear the fork at equal volumes in both ears both times the fork is applied.

Hysteria is what Sigmund Freud would call a conversion or somatization disorder, wherein the patient suffers psychological stress which manifests itself as a physical problem. The term Hysteria is actually rather vague, and refers to a broad category of disorders called hysterical disorders. Sometimes, actual physical disorders are present, which must be ruled out before making the diagnosis of a hysterical disorder. Some of these disorders may be diagnosed if a patient reports numbness in only one limb or part of a limb. Similarly, various clinical inventories may be used to predict hysterical tendencies.

For better or for worse, these illnesses tend to manifest in vastly different ways. Keep in mind, therefore, that if you suspect somebody of having a Hysterical disorder, tapping them on the head with a tuning fork is not guaranteed to prove anything.

Hys*te"ri*a (?), n. [NL.: cf. F. hyst'erie. See Hysteric.] Med.

A nervous affection, occurring almost exclusively in women, in which the emotional and reflex excitability is exaggerated, and the will power correspondingly diminished, so that the patient loses control over the emotions, becomes the victim of imaginary sensations, and often falls into paroxism or fits.

The chief symptoms are convulsive, tossing movements of the limbs and head, uncontrollable crying and laughing, and a choking sensation as if a ball were lodged in the throat. The affection presents the most varied symptoms, often simulating those of the gravest diseases, but generally curable by mental treatment alone.


© Webster 1913.

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