Xen and the Art of Nomenclature Maintenance

By Scip Garling
Volume 4, Number 2 (Winter 1993-1994)
Issue theme: "An international perspective on migration"

Words can be used as tools or as weapons. Xenophobia, for example, continues to be used as a weapon (see Roy Beck's article in the Spring 1992 issue of The Social Contract). To lighten the load on this overburdened word, I suggest some new terms for discussing immigration in America.

Before we meet these terms, a word to the linguistically squeamish there is nothing wrong with creating new words. Words do not grow on trees; people make them up. Xenophobia is a made-up word from 'phobia' which is another made-up word. You will not find 'phobia' in either a Latin dictionary or a Greek lexicon. It is a modern English word (with a Greek root and a Latin ending), invented within the last century by psychologists. If they can do it, so can we.

Many opponents of immigration reform pride themselves on being xenophiles, people with a fondness for the foreign. They may in fact be xenomaniacs, people with an obsessive devotion to the foreign. A xenophile is likely to perceive the good that a foreign culture or foreign person has to offer; a xenomaniac is unlikely to perceive anything else.

A xenomaniac might point out that xenophobia springs from insecurity insecurity about one's safety. Likewise, xenomania stems from an insecurity insecurity about one's worthiness. Such insecurity is certainly related to dyspatriotism (the belief that one's country is bad or wrong in any situation), ethnoseverism (the desire to cut oneself off from one's own culture), and xenopathy (overwhelming identification with foreigners).

'Xenophobia,' to quote Louisa Parker of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, 'is the irrational fear of foreigners. There is a very rational fear of the impact of immigration legal and illegal' (USA Today, July 15, 1993). What we need is a word to describe that rational, reasonable fear.

Fortunately, the ancients were thoughtful enough to make a distinction between having an irrational fear (phobein) and a rational one (deidein). From those verbs come the names of the two sons of the Greek war-god, Ares Phobos and Deimos. The astro-nomically-inclined reader may recognize these as the names of the two moons of the planet Mars (and Mars is the Roman name for Ares, the war-god).

'A xenophile is likely to

perceive the good that a

foreign culture or a foreign

person has to offer; a xenomaniac

is unlikely to perceive

anything else.'

So, if someone with an irrational fear of foreigners is a xenophobe, then someone with a rational fear is a xenodeid. Since xenodeidic concern usually focuses not on foreigners themselves but rather on their impact on society, we need a word to describe that impact. Try xenotrauma, the shocking effect of too much immigration on our societal systems.

The very use of roots like 'philia,' 'phobia,' and 'mania' puts the immigration debate into emotional terms loves, fears, madnesses. Perhaps it would be better to discuss the matter with more rational, intellectual terms. How much different the immigration debate seems when it is between xenosophs (those who are prudent in importing foreigners) and xenomores (those who are reckless). On the other hand, discussants could pride themselves on being xenomels (people who are concerned about immigration and how it affects them) from the Greek melie, 'it concerns.'

Xenomels would give thought to plans for limited immigration. But what could they call it? As immigration is not new, neither is the idea that it should be limited. So it should come as no surprise that the Greeks (the Spartans, specifically) had a word for it xenelasia. [You may be wondering where the 'o' is in the familiar prefix 'xeno-' in Greek word-formation, the initial 'e' of the base word 'elasia' overrides the final 'o' of the prefix 'xeno-.']

With xenelasia as an operative term, the suppor-ters of laws to limit immigration could be called xenelasts. Bills to limit immigration would, of course, be termed xenelastic although that might be stretching it a bit!

Dennis Meadows, of Limits to Growth fame, once told me 'If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.' If xenophobia is the only tool for describing attitudes of concern about immigration, everyone will look like a xenophobe.

If we expand our tool kit and use some of these new words as our instruments, it may become easier to debate and build a better immigration policy.