By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

What's your phobia?

We humans seem to have a lot of these exaggerated, unexplainable and illogical fears. And those of us who have a phobia different than yours, often have little sympathy for your fears.

I pooh-pooh your phobia for hodophobia — fear of travel. You pooh-pooh my fear of being late. We both belittle the poor soul who has helminthophobia: fear of worms.

I do not at all understand, nor sympathize with, the person who has that phobia.

When I walk during a rain and sidewalks are covered with angleworms, I walk carefully to avoid walking on them. At a college class we dissected earthworms and I was impressed by their complexity.

But lack of understanding regarding the fears of other may be because of ignorance. I learn that there are thousands of kinds of worms and perhaps my friend with helminthophobia is fearful, not of earthworms, but of tapeworms, or the trichina worm which causes trichinosis. Those indeed could be worms to fear.

And I have little sympathy for the person who has brontophobia — fear of thunder.

What a weird phobia, I’m thinking. Everyone knows that it’s lightning we should fear — and many people do have astrapophobia.

But perhaps that person who fears thunder is a meteorology student and knows much more than do I about such things. Perhaps when thunder shakes the skies, he can formulate exactly the interval before the lightning will strike and that the thunder is communicating to him what will come next and he fears knowing what that thunder will bring.

Some phobias are almost as prevalent as the common cold. Many people have claustrophobia, fear of confined spaces. Others have fear of open spaces: agoraphobia.

Another common phobia pertains to the number 13: triskaidekaphobia. Motels and hotels often exclude rooms of that number. Would you stay in Room 13?

Not many people appreciate snakes, but with some it’s a phobia. They have ophidiophobia. If it’s spiders you mortally fear, you have arachnaphobia.

If you’ve been attacked by a dog you well may have cynophobia — fear of dogs.

Likewise, if an unfriendly cat has left you scratched and bleeding, you may fear cats: ailurophobia.

But there are the phobias, too, that seem quite improbable — such as mayophobia — the fear of salad dressings. Maybe the gal who has this phobia badly wishes to lose weight, and can’t enjoy a salad without copious quantities of dressing. Her self-denial is not strong enough to forego the dressings. Hence the fear.

Another strange fear, in my estimation, is the fear of crossing bridges: gephyrophobia. Bridges, indeed, have been known to collapse, but I have never feared crossing them.

If you fear drafts — not the military kind but fear of catching a cold from the draft of an open window — you have aerophobia.

If I had allergies or asthma, I could sympathize with those whose phobia is fear of dust — amathophobia — whereas now, I give them little thought.

Nor do I have phasmophobia: fear of ghosts. But that word was coined for those who do have that fear, which indicates they must be of considerable number

Lawyers will strike the word “ipsophobia” from their vocabulary. It means fear of lawyers.

If you are a young gal or a young guy much interested in a person you regard as a “steady”, you might inquire as to whether he or she has gametophobia: fear of marriage.

As we age, we’re probably more apt to develop eisoptrophobia — that’s fear of mirrors. And indeed I now may have a slight case, in that if I break a mirror, I am sure I will have seven years of bad luck.

As indication that we humans sometimes go out of our way to find something to worry about, we can develop zerophobia: fear of nothing.

What with all these words coined for unusual fears, I am surprised that I find no word for my phobia: fear of being late — of having a panic attack if I don’t arrive half an hour before a meeting.

I have just cause for this fear — such as the wedding of good friends at a church in Portland in an area we were not familiar with, when GPS had not yet come into play. We became hopelessly lost, arrived at the church, only to go in the door and run smack dab into the beaming bride and groom coming down the aisle, happily married, and leaving for their honeymoon.

For flights out of Portland, I hope to leave McMinnville early enough to drive to the Canadian border. And, true, I have never missed a flight out of Portland, but we once missed a connecting flight in Texas and had to sleep on cots in the airport.

And for a midnight Christmas Eve service at the Trappist Abbey, we arrived late and were seated up in front where we were facing the audience and appeared to be part of the service. Despite the beautiful singing and memorable ritual, I squirmed like a little kid through the entire event.

But the phobia I would most dread is ergophobia: the fear of work. Assuredly I heartily dislike some of the things that I should do. But, after I persuade myself to get at them and they are done, there is great satisfaction in not only having done something you did not enjoy — but having it over — and no longer dreading the doing.

Meanwhile, I’ll live with my fear of being late — and just leave earlier. That’s ever so much better than fear of nothing, or fear of work. And with luck, there will be a magazine in the waiting room.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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