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Historical Origins of English Words and Phrases

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alienist [Jun. 21st, 2008|10:05 am]
Historical Origins of English Words and Phrases

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[gwoman]
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alienist, n. [ey-lee-uh-nist, ā-lē-ə-nĭst]
-The most modern definition of this word (though it is still not very common) is 'a doctor who specializes in mental illness, often as an expert witness in a sanity trial.' The word arrived in English circa 1860 C.E. and is thought to have been borrowed from French aliéniste, with the same meaning. The French term comes from earlier French aliéné 'insane,' taken from Latin alienatus, the past participle of Latin alienare. The general sense of alienare is 'to make another's, estrange,' as it was created from Latin alienus 'of or belonging to another person or place' (this is where we get English adjective alien 'strange, foreign.') However, there appears to have been a secondary defintion for alienare that meant 'to deprive of reason,' - likely originating as 'to make strange or different, to alienate mentally,' something of a euphemism for causing insanity.
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[User Picture]From: peculiar_writer
2008-06-21 06:06 pm (UTC)
Perfect timing! I just came across this word in a book I was reading. Interestingly, I saw a book at a store titled "The Alienist," and thinking it was about a psychiatrist, I picked it up. However, the author explained in a note that "alienist" meant a mentally ill criminal; in this book, a serial killer. Maybe that's just a stretch of the "estrange" part of the definition, as in, estranged from society?
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[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-06-23 07:13 am (UTC)
odd, i didn't come across that definition at all when doing research for this post. i could see where the author could have created the word though, with exactly the reasoning you gave. was the book any good?
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From: ergi_fae_woman
2008-06-21 07:47 pm (UTC)
This one is fun. I think I'll start playing with it.
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[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-06-23 07:13 am (UTC)
haha, so now in 5 years we will refer to forensic psychologists once again as alienists!
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[User Picture]From: plaidseven
2008-06-22 01:44 am (UTC)
Wow, I've never heard that word before. Interesting!
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[User Picture]From: gwoman
2008-06-23 07:14 am (UTC)
neither had i! and that's awful because part of my career plans involve being exactly that *blush*
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