Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Etymology of Conniption Fit




For a word that has such an official ring to it, there is surprisingly little information on where the terms conniption or conniption fit originated from. The word did not appear until the 19th century and is virtual unused in the United Kingdom, leading most scholars to conclude that the etymology of conniption fit lies in the United States. According to the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris, the word conniption is most likely the creation of an imaginative American who coined the term in an attempt to sound educated with a bit of pseudo-Latin. The folks over at Podictionary did a pretty cool podcast about the etymology of the word conniption last year that suggested that the word was first used to describe a woman by the name of Aunt Keziah who lost her cool in the 1800s. She and the rest of her neighbors in a small town of New England were waiting for a scheduled visit by President Andrew Jackson that was canceled with very little notice, at which said conniption fit did ensue.

10 comments:

  1. Modestly useful information here. I know the "Conniptions" were considered a medical condition in the -9th century or before, probably describing palsy or hysterics (derived from hysteria, which is a word Freud used, describing a woman's behavior - see Hysterectomy)

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  2. Back in the 1960s my sister's favourite phrase was "so and so had conniptions." She was studying nursing at the time and one of the doctors told her that "a conniption" was originally a stroke. That would tie in with the idea of palsy/paralysis, and the idea that a hissy fit could bring on a stroke.

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    1. This explanation makes the most sense of any I've heard. Thanks for sharing it.

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    2. The biblical idiom for a stroke or thrombosis is NaTZiV MeLakH​ נְצִיב מֶלַח Pillar of Salt (Genesis 19:26). It is a reversal of​ kHaLaM BaTSaN​ חלם בצן (a bastion of strength, a euphemism for a stroke or thrombosis​) compare modern​ Hebrew SHaBaTZ​ שבץ = caused by + mud). This idiom is "over-determined". Giving the het (without a schwa​)​ its ancient W-sound, Lot's wife was (over)WheLM(ed) by mud, unable to move, paralyzed.

      The English idiom "conniption fit" (a panic attack) is formed in the same manner. CoNNiP is a reversal of PaNiC and FiT is a reversal of TiFF which is a reversal of FighT.

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  3. How about 'catnip' as the origin? Certainly what some cats exhibit upon smelling the herb is a fit.

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    1. Well...after reading all of the comments here, I believe your comment, Bill Wallace, takes the cake for most creative answer. Good job, dude, I love it.

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  4. Haha, Bill, now I know how to describe my feline's behavior: "He's having a catniption fit."

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    1. You must be from above the Mason-Dixon line. You don't "have" a conniption fit...you "pitch" a conniption fit. Ergo, said feline would pitch a catniption fit. LOL

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  5. Probably formed by reversing the consonants in the word "panic" plus -tion as in "condition".

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