NABOKV-L post 0010475, Sat, 30 Oct 2004 16:54:38 -0700

Re: hysteria - hysteritis. Getting to the bottom (or top) of
To enlarge a bit on the recent postings on
"hysteria": hystera (the y is an upsilon) IS the
Greek word for uterus or womb, and as far as I
know it doesn't have anything to do with "bottom."
In fact, it's not certain that hystera is related
to words like "hysteron" (in which the "hyster-"
means not "bottom" but rather later, latter,
after, or higher --the general sense of the
putative indoeuropean root is "up"). Thus in the
rhetorical figure "hysteron proteron" what should
be the latter element (hysteron) is put first
(proteron). The term "hysteria" was coined many
centuries before Freud and does actually mean a
mental condition caused by "trouble with the womb"
-- an organ to which the Greek (and later) medical
writers attributed a variety of mental and
physical illnesses in women. The etymological
meaning of "hysteria" was pretty much worn away by
the nineteenth century but it is readily available
to anyone who looks up the word in a dictionary.
And that perhaps what Nabokov did; Van's remark is
informed by both the etymological meaning of
"hysteria" and the tendency in the 19th and early
20th c. to attribute idiosyncrasies like
unconventional dress -- the absence of underwear,
say -- to "hysteria" in its more general sense.

Hysteritis on the other hand is a fairly obscure
archaic medical term-- it's not in Webster's II or
III and I don't think it's been in use since the
late 19th c., at least in English. When it WAS in
use I believe it referred primarily to a
postpartum condition. None of this is conclusive
of course but in my view it makes it less likely
that that's what VN intended to say.


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