In attempt to avoid throwing around disorders as an adjective for any given event, the Associated Press decided to ban the suffix “phobia” when referring to social and political contexts (e.g., homophobia, Islamophobia), citing that the phrase implies a mental state that cannot necessarily be inferred by behaviors often described as “phobic.”
The psychologist in me agrees with this approach, if we assume that the phrase “phobia” is an psychological condition. Phobia is defined as, “An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.” In this context, someone who engages in acts that discriminate against a specific group may or may not have an “extreme or irrational fear of or aversion” towards that group; in fact, their actions may be perfectly rational, in that they may involve extensive reason or logic. Furthermore, hatred is not the same as fear, and extreme hatred is not considered a disorder (i.e., deviant, dysfunctional, and distressful – we discussed psychological disorders in class last week). However, there is a Greek suffix to indicate hatred or disgust: “misia,” as in homosexualmisia or Islamomisia.
Whether this is another exercise in political correctness, I applaud the Associated Press for clarifying language. As one of the largest news agencies in the world, the decisions they make affect news media as a whole; even changes to AP guidelines are a major story. I do not think that this will cause other news outlets to remove “phobia” but given the frequency of reprinted Associated Press stories, we may see an overall decrease in the use of the words “homophobia” and “Islamophobia” to describe behaviors.