Monday, April 28, 2014

X: Xenophobia (A-Z Blog Challenge: Evocative words)

I wrote earlier in this alphabet about mania and phobia words. Like many a future word-nerd, I went through a phase of being in love with these types of words as a child. I still think they are fascinating words.

Xenophobia is an especially interesting word. A good "X" word is hard to come by. Ask anyone who's ever try to do an alphabet theme.

Xenophobia comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning "strange," "foreigner," and φόβος (phobos), meaning "fear." So "fear of strangers."

To some degree, fear of strangers is a healthy thing. Don't we spend hours haranguing our children about the dangers represented by people we don't know? Stranger danger! 

But, a true xenophobe takes this pretty far.  Anyone who is unlike them is a cause for fear. That could
be people who have a different color of skin, lifestyle, style of dress, or just a different way of pronouncing words.  It's a very short step from here to outright hatred and persecution. 

So, that's the line we all have to learn to walk: between self-protective caution and bigotry. 

As a Spanish teacher, I am often faced with people who are standing on this line and trying to figure out where to stand. Kids who feel frustrated by language learning or are just parroting what they hear at home will complain that "they should all just speak English." 

That generic "they" or worse "you" is the first step towards ugly. When you can think and talk about people in generic terms like this, it's easy to think of them as less human. If you can think of people as less than human, then it's easier to abuse them. 

Us and Them is dangerous territory indeed. Tread lightly. 

This post is part of the Blogging from A-Z Challenge.


  1. Nice post - love the boxed quote!
    If you like words like xenophobia, I hope you're following this AtoZ blog - If not, you'll have to read the whole thing through.
    Marlene at On Writing and Riding

    1. Thanks for showing me laughingatlife. I'm enjoying looking through all the posts I missed!