Original Greek Definition of Agoraphobia

Getting on a plane may be terrifying for a person with agoraphobia.
... Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately 3.2 million American adults between the ages 18 to 54 had agoraphobia as of 2009. People with agoraphobia become anxious at even the thought of leaving their homes alone, riding public transportation, being in open spaces, going to public venues, or being in crowds. To understand how this disorder was named, you have to understand the Greek roots of the word.

1 Agora

Berlin psychiatrist Carl Westphal first named the disorder "Agorophobie" in 1873. He used two different Greek roots to come up with the word. The first was the Greek term, "agora,” which literally translated means ''open space.'' The ancient Greeks used this term to refer to their marketplace and public square, which was the political, civic and commercial hub of the city.

Vocabulary Builder

2 Phobia

The second part of the word agoraphobia is the root "phobia" which means fear. The Medical News Today website indicates that a phobia is a type of intense and irrational fear. People with phobias dread situations, people, places or things to such an extent that the quality of their daily lives become severely impaired.

3 Putting it Together

Although the diagnostic criteria have become more sophisticated with time, by examining the Greek origins of the word, you can see that Carl Westphal's original meaning of the term agoraphobia was an intense fear of public places, situations or things.

Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.