retro "psych"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Apr 27 03:17:49 UTC 2005

On Tue, 26 Apr 2005 21:49:54 -0400, Mark A. Mandel
<mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU> wrote:

>I very much doubt that the spelling "Psyche!" in the source material
>represents a disyllabic pronunciation as in Greek myth. Probably it was
>simply "Um, now how do I spell this? Use a silent 'e' there, right?", on
>a word that the users understood as an abbreviation for "psychology",
>give or take some syntactic tomfoolery, but had never seen in written
>form, especially the "schoolkids".

Keep in mind that the other senses of "psych" as noun or verb (derived
from "psychology", "psychic", "psychoanalyze", etc.) very often have
"psyche" as an alternate spelling. In fact, for one sense -- a psychic
(i.e., deceptive) bid in bridge -- the OED says "psyche" is the preferred

Here's one of many reputable examples of "psyche" for /saIk/:

1972 N.Y. Times 4 June 4/8 At tiring moments she tried to psyche herself
up by muttering, 'McGovern, McGovern, I've got to win for McGovern.'

So why should we be surprised when the interjection is spelled "psyche"?

Also, Larry suggested upthread that the "sike" spelling implies a semantic
"branching off" from the "psych-" forms. I don't think this is necessarily
the case -- here's a use of "sike" = 'psychoanalyze" from Faulkner:

1922 W. FAULKNER in _Essays, Speeches & Public Letters_ (2004) 319 A
friend ... advised him to repair to a certain practitioner of the new
therapeutic psycho-analysis. He did so, was "siked," and immediately
recovered his appetite, his untroubled slumber, and his old zest in stage
[originally in: "American Drama: Inhibitions", _Mississippian_, Mar. 1922]

-- Ben Zimmer

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