A combination of two things: telephonoscopy (also telephonotomy) on this blog, here; and a recent card to me from Chris Ambidge, reporting a friend (observing him putting shirts and towels into the automatic washing machine) saying jocularly, “Ah, you’re committing laundricide”.

The common factor is “combining forms”, learnèd elements that are mostly like compound elements but somewhat like derivational affixes: -(o)scopy (and -(o)tomy) and (i)cide.

Laundricide first. The relevant entry in Quinion’s affixes list:

-cide Also -cidal.
A person or substance that kills; an act of killing.
[Latin -cidium and -cidere, from caedere, to strike down or slay.]

There are a few ghits for laundricide, some in the sense ‘death by washing machine’, but mostly in the sense ‘destroying clothes by laundering them’ (as in Ambidge’s report).

Then on to telephon- words. Telephonoscopy I described in my earlier posting. Then there are the cutting words: telephonotomy, telephonectomy, and telephonostomy. I suggested the first (for removal of telephones) in my earlier posting, but the only ghits for the word are links to this posting. The combining form in question, from Quinion:

-tomy Also -otomy.
[Greek -tomia, cutting, from temnein, to cut.]

A better suggestion would be telephonectomy, since the combining form here

Surgical removal of all or part of a specified organ.
[Greek ektomē, excision, from ek, out, plus temnein, to cut.]

is already used in jocular formations like parentectomy and humorectomy. The final possibility, telephonostomy, with the combining form here

A surgical operation to create an opening in an organ.
[Greek stoma, mouth.]

(as in colonostomy) is something of a stretch, and in fact there are no ghits for telephonostomy.

On other fronts, there are telephony and telephonic, but they involve ordinary derivational suffixes (-y and -ic), rather than combining forms.

The big winner in the telephon- stakes is telephonitis, in a number of senses. The combining form here is

Inflammatory disease.
[Greek feminine form of adjectives ending in -itēs.]

The ending is often used facetiously in temporary formations that refer to some state of mind or tendency viewed as a disease: celebritis, excessive admiration for celebrities; electionitis; lotteryitis; millenniumitis.

The most common use of telephonitis is to refer to obsessive use of the telephone, as in a New York Times story of 9/1/1907 on

A New Disease, Telephonitis

(abstract here, full article here). This antedates considerably the cites in OED2:

joc.  A compulsive desire to make telephone calls. [cites from 1935, 1962, 1979]

Compare the online Merriam-Webster:

marked fondness for or obsession with telephoning <afflicted with the telephonitis … common to all teen-agers — J.S.Qualey>

An illustration (“Infected with Telephonitis” photographic poster by Grey Villet):

Then there’s an opposed use, for an inability to use the telephone:

Twice in the last week I’ve been on important conference calls where severe “telephonitis” set in.  “Telephonitis” is the process whereby otherwise conversant, engaged, active people become silent in the face of a group conference call. (link)

And a use for an actual physical affliction; the Free Dictionary on telephonitis redirects you to:

Phone Neck
Neck pain caused by holding a telephone between one’s shoulder and ear for extended periods (Segen’s Medical Dictionary, 2011)


What is Telephonitis???
It’s A NEW disease

… You may think that it won’t happen to you. But if you continue to have poor posture when on the telephone, then it is only a matter of time until the problems arise. This may be after a particular busy time on the telephone at work. So correct it now and save yourself pain later. (link)

Finally, there are uses of the word for any sort of  hassle involving telephones, as in this 1951 episode of The Stu Erwin Show (on television) called “Telephonitis”:

synopsis: Willie causes problems for the Erwins when he forgets to mention their new phone number as they meet their sponsors for the country club. Mysterious calls, peroxide blondes, jealous husbands, race-track gangsters and repo-men invade the house one after the other.  (link)

Now going further afield:

Telephonosis, with the combining form -osis:

-osis Also -sis.
Abstract nouns of action, state, or process.
[Greek -ōsis or -sis, verbal noun endings.]

English words ending in -osis are commonly names for diseases, diseased conditions, or pathological states: neurosis; tuberculosis; thrombosis; nephrosis (Greek nephros, kidney), kidney disease; silicosis, a disease of the lung caused by inhaling dust containing silica.

Adjectives are commonly formed in -otic.

Telephonosis is occasionally suggested as an alternative to telephonitis. (Telephonotic seems to be unattested.) And there’s also a portmanteau usage, as on the Verbal Impact site (“Reflections about hypnosis, language and perception”) of 4/2/11:

Telephone Hypnosis

Can hypnosis be done by telephone? I just had the chance to try it a few times this week. In fact, I just got off the phone with a client. So the answer is,
This is a fantasstic advancement in my world! So convenient for both me and my client. I think I will call it
Please let me know if someone else has coined this term before me!

Then telephonicide, with a very few ghits, among them

The Telephone
Libretto and Music by Gian Carlo Menotti
Lucy and Ben are young lovers. Before leaving on business, he pays her a visit. Ben wants to ask Lucy to marry him, but his attempts are thwarted by a seemingly endless parade of incoming calls for Lucy. Ben tries everything short of telephonicide to get Lucy’s attention but only angers her. Will she ever get off the phone? Will he ever get down on one knee?  (link)

Or what of my mobile phone that started suddenly trying to delete all its own applications for no good reason (telephonicide?) – how the hell could I have done that? Given it depression? (link)

For telephonopathy, some ghits for a portmanteau use, for instance:

The Flowing of the Dao blog, 9/6/06

NORWICH, England (Reuters) — Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them — now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy.

Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails. (link)

For telephonasia, no ghits. And for telephonistics, one jocular hit, from Tartu, Estonia, for phone pranks considered as experiments:


Who hasn´t ever said when answering a phone call “this is the zoo” or as a child dialled random phone numbers taken from the phone directory and said something confusing to the person at the other end of the line? Student Meelis often spends his free time making such calls. He subjects people´s psyche to the test, bothering unsuspecting citizens, to whom he introduces himself as somebody important. (link)

Then back to derivational suffixes with telephonism: some 19th-century hits for this as a nervous affliction caused by the use of the telephone. Plus sites treating it playfully as a form of religion, for instance on the Cellphonism site:

Theologians suggest that the chord actually refers to the umbilical chord, suggesting that Cellphonianism was birthed from telephonism. (link)

And telephonist, which OED2 treats as follows:

a. A person employed in transmitting messages by telephone; one who works a telephone. [no cites]

b. One versed in telephony (rare). [cites from 1880, 1882, 1884, 1898]

c. = telephoner n. at telephone v. Derivatives. rare.

The online Merriam-Webster has picked this up as:

British: a telephone switchboard operator (first known use 1880)

Finally, two items I expected to be more common than they seem to be, with the combining forms -phile and -phobe: for telephonophile, a few ghits, some in the sense ‘telephone enthusiast’, some in the sense ‘someone (sexually) aroused by telephones’ (plus telephonophilia; and phonophile, though that one mostly with reference to sound(s) or to phonograph recordings); and for telephonophobe, a modest number of ghits in the sense ‘someone afraid to use the telephone’ (plus telephonophobia), a condition that seems to be more common than telephonophilia), and also for phonophobe, but that one also in the sense ‘someone afraid of sound(s)’.

People do a lot of playing with the morphological resources of the learnèd section of English vocabulary. Telephonitis is especially impressive.

5 Responses to “telephon-”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    On teenage telephonitis, see the song “The Telephone Hour” (with the kids singing on the telephone about Kim McAfee and Hugo Peabody goin’ steady) from Bye Bye Birdie (stage musical 1960, movie 1963).

    From this source we get the rhyming greetings

    What’s the story. morning glory?
    What’s the tale, nightingale?
    What’s the word, hummingbird?

    parallel to the rhyming goodbyes in “Alligator Goodbyes”.

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