Psyche and Her Progeny

By Maeve Maddox

The origin of our word psyche is the Greek noun psukhe, denoting both breath and the life represented by breath: “the animating principle in man and other living beings.” The word has been a rich source of words in English and other languages.

In the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche, the woman Psyche represents the human soul. The earliest extant written version of this story appears in the second-century novel The Golden Ass by Apuleius. Its inclusion echoes the theme of the novel: the soul’s search for union with the divine.

The prefix psych/psycho has been used in English since the 17th century. The earliest meaning of psychology was “the study or consideration of the soul or spirit.”

Until the 19th century, psychology was considered to be a branch of philosophy; gradually it developed into a science concerned not with the soul or spirit, but with the human mind. Most of the English words formed with the combining form psych- date from the 19th century. Most have scientific applications, but a few have gone mainstream.

Here are a few examples of psych words with their most common definitions:

psych (transitive verb): to influence psychologically; to intimidate, demoralize. Example: He tried to psych me out, but I didn’t fall for it.

psyched (adjective): excited, stimulated, enthusiastic. Example: I’m really psyched about the movie.

psychedelic (noun): a drug (usually illicit) that produces an alteration in the mind; adjective: producing an alteration of consciousness, often accompanied by hallucinations.

psychiatry (noun): The branch of medicine concerned with the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness.

psychology (noun): the branch of science that deals with the mind as an entity and in its relationship to the body and to the environmental or social context.

psychic (noun): a person with psychic abilities; (adjective): appearing to have psychical powers, especially of telepathy or clairvoyance.

psycho (noun): any person exhibiting odd or deranged behavior, especially when violent or hostile.

psychoanalysis (noun): a therapeutic method, originated by Sigmund Freud, for treating mental disorders by investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the patient’s mind

psychodrama (noun): a psychotherapeutic exercise in which patients act out feelings and problems in front of others; used colloquially to mean any interaction involving the expression of deep feelings. Psychodrama is also a term given to a play, film, or novel in which psychological elements are the main interest.

psychokinesis (noun): the supposed phenomenon whereby physical objects are moved or affected by mental or psychic effort; telekinesis.

psycholinguistics (noun): the branch of linguistics that deals with the psychological processes inherent in language acquisition and use.

psychometrics (noun): the measurement of mental capacity, thought processes, aspects of personality, etc., esp. by mathematical or statistical analysis of quantitative data; the science or study of this; (also) the construction and application of psychological tests.

psychopath (noun): a mentally ill person who is highly irresponsible and antisocial and also violent or aggressive.

psychosis (noun): severe mental illness, characterized by loss of contact with reality.

psychotic (adjective): of, relating to, or suffering from psychosis.

psychotropic (adjective): of a drug or plant affecting the mind.

psychopomp (noun): a mythical conductor or guide of souls to the place of the dead. One of the duties of the Greek god Hermes (Roman: Mercury) was that of psychopomp he conducted the souls of the dead to Hades.

metempsychosis (noun): transmigration of the soul, passage of the soul from one body to another. Pythagoras taught metempsychosis and recommended a vegetarian diet, perhaps to avoid the possibility of eating any ancestors who might have reincarnated as animals.

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3 Responses to “Psyche and Her Progeny”

  • Lisa

    Psychedelic can also be used as an adjective: ‘Her dress was a myriad of psychedelic colors.’

    I’m sure using the word as an adjective came about from all the psychedelic colors one sees when tripping on these types of drugs. 😉

  • ApK

    Isn’t the definition of of “psychic” above sort of self-referential? The noun is defined in terms of the adjective “psychic” and the adjective is defined in terms of the undefined form “psychical.”
    Would, perhaps, a phrase like “supernatural powers of the mind” belong in that definition somewhere?

    Also, it’s interesting that while “psychometrics” is the scientific quantification of the mind, the related term “psychometry” is the supposed supernatural ability to discover facts about an event or person by touching inanimate objects associated with them .

  • venqax

    Psychedelic can also be used as an adjective: ‘Her dress was a myriad of psychedelic colors.

    True it’s used like that, but I’m not sure it’s formally acceptable. You hear people refer to something “painted psychedelic” e.g., as if psychedelic means multi-colored. Used as an adjective as in “it has a psychedelic affect” is one thing, but going so far a as to refer to psychedelic as a color or color scheme, is probably going too far.

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