What’s in a Word: Etmology of “Alienist”

“Later on, when, cured, he leaves the alienist, “he blushes at his anxiety.”.
~Serge Persky

I first came across the word “alienist” while watching Stonehearst Asylum, which is very good and I recommend. Unfamiliar with the word, I decided to research it. The first impression or inclining the reader gets when they first see the word “alienist” is that it must be something to do with aliens, because that is it cool! However, the Online Etymology Dictionary has a different and completely unrelated definition for “alienist”:

alienist (n.)
“one who treats mental illness, ‘mad doctor,’ ” 1864, from French aliéniste, from alienation in the sense of “insanity, loss of mental faculty,” a sense attested in English from late 15c. (see alienate).

“The human brain is a very complex composition, and its strange vagaries are only known to alienists”
~William Le Queux

We refer to “alienists” as psychologists and psychiatrists. No longer used that commonly, “alienist” was replaced with more ‘friendly’ words. Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides this definition for the etymology of “alienist”:

“Alienist” and “alien” are related — both are ultimately derived from the Latin word”alius,” meaning “other.” In the case of “alienist,” the etymological trail leads from Latin to French, where the adjective “aliene” (“insane”) gave rise to the noun “alieniste,” referring to a doctor who treats the insane. “Alienist” first appeared in print in English in 1864, but it was preceded by the other “alius” descendants “alien” (14th century) and “alienate” (used as a verb since the early 16th century). “Alienist” is much rarer than “psychiatrist” these days, but at one time it was the preferred term

“Alienists declare that almost every man and woman has some hobby or mania”
~Ali Nomad

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized, What's In a Word and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s