March 28, 2013

Case File #013.03.28: PANIC

I hope this doesn't alarm you, but it turns out that the word panic has its roots in classical mythology. I swear to Zeus, it's true. Panic comes to English via the Greek term panikos, which means “of Pan” or “from Pan,” Pan being the ancient Greek god of forests, mountainous wilds, shepherds and their flocks, and essentially anything rustic or pastoral. With his satyr-like appearance and mischievous temperament, Pan spent a good deal of his time lustfully chasing after nymphs, who usually rebuffed his advances, or playing music on his pipes as he danced through the forests and hills. But he also got a big kick out of frightening unwary travelers by abruptly jumping in front of them or by making loud, sudden noises. Thus, in the ancient Greek world, Pan often got the blame for almost any sudden and frightening phenomenon. And in the modern English-speaking world, the word panic can be defined, in an etymological sense, as “to frighten in a Pan-like manner” or “the acute anxiety that results from being frightened in a Pan-like manner.”

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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