meme-hacking “psychotic axe murderer” (pun intended)

July 29, 2007

A friend asks: do you know if there’s been any progress informing the public about the difference between “psychopathy,” “psychosis,” and “psychotic axe-murder?” which should probably be “psychopathic axe-murderer,” now that I think about it.

I don’t know, but it’s probably similar to when other terms have been adopted by the public and used pejoratively (like “idiot,” “imbecile,” and “moron,” originally specific technical designations). Then we switch to different terms like “mentally retarded” which the public then starts using as an insult, and move on to “developmental delay,” “developmental disability,” “intellectual disability,” etc.

All of these terms have been used to refer to very similar things, which interested parties want to destigmatize, some people merely wish to describe accurately, and many people want to mock and insult. Linguist Steven Pinker calls this the euphemism treadmill.

I think it’s virtually certain that words for mental illnesses and symptoms will continue to be turned into words that mean “completely unresponsive to social norms, and violent” or “SUPERDANGEROUSWILLKILLYOU”.

So what if instead we gave them a word or phrase to name the kind of person they’re trying to name: the kind of person everyone is afraid of, someone who is not merely malevolent and physically dangerous, but so mentally unbound from laws and rules and social demands that nothing you can do will stop them?

Such as “horror movie killers”. Or “Jasophrenics” (after Jason of the various horror movies, but with “phrenic” (“minded”) added because most people named “Jason” are not horror movie killers. Or “berserkers” (though I think that’s kind of mean to the originals. I wonder if they had to go around after battle explaining to people that they weren’t the equivalent of horror movie killers?). I also came up with the idea of “Voldemorts” since everybody loves Harry Potter, but I’m told that he’s not violent enough.

And then we would have the word “Jasophrenic” to describe something that probably doesn’t exist as a discrete clinical entity, just as a catchy mental concept, and we might make more headway in explaining that “psychotic” covers a great deal of ground that doesn’t involve it, and so does “schizophrenic” and “crazy” and “mentally ill,” and even “psychopathic” does too. That might be a lot of education gained for a pretty cheap memehack.