Origin & History of “agoraphobia”

Agoraphobiafear of open spaces or, more generally, of simply being out of doors – is first referred to in an 1873 issue of the Journal of Mental Science; this attributes the term to Dr C Westphal, and gives his definition of it as ‘the fear of squares or open places’. This would be literally true, since the first element in the word represents Greek agorā́ ‘open space, typically a market place, used for public assemblies’ (the most celebrated in the ancient world was the Agora in Athens, rivalled only by the forum in Rome). The word agorā́ came from ageirein ‘assemble’, which is related to Latin grex ‘flock’, the source of English gregarious.

Agoraphobia was not the first of the -phobias. That honour goes to hydrophobia in the mid 16th century. But that was an isolated example, and the surge of compounds based on Greek phóbos ‘fear’ really starts in the 19th century. At first it was used for symptoms of physical illness (photophobia ‘abnormal sensitivity to light’ 1799), for aversions to other nationalities (Gallophobia 1803; the synonymous Francophobia does not appear until 1887), and for facetious formations (dustophobia, Robert Southey, 1824), and the range of specialized psychological terms familiar today does not begin to appear until the last quarter of the century ((claustrophobia) 1879, acrophobia ‘fear of heights’ from Greek akros ‘topmost’ – see (acrobat) – 1892).