nomophobia: why I’m tired of hearing about it

Yesterday I came across an article on Mashable about nomophobia and I rolled my eyes. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of it nor was it the first time I rolled my eyes. For those of you who aren’t well-versed in made-up words, nomophobia(1) is the fear of other losing your mobile phone or being out of mobile-phone contact.

Let’s forget for a minute how ridiculous this is, that some people genuinely feel their lives have come to a halt because they have forgotten their phones. Of all the more ridiculous aspects of modern culture, such as that both Renee Zellweger and Reese Witherspoon have won Oscars, this one takes the proverbial cake. It’s on par having nothing to do because your television is broken or not being able to walk because you can’t find your shoes. It’s that ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone just as much as anyone, but the few times I’ve been without it it wasn’t like the orchestra started playing over my acceptance speech.

But I don’t want to talk about the phenomenon.(2) I want to talk about the word itself.

According to Wikipedia and about half-a-dozen other equally unreliable sources from the internet,(3) nomophobia combines the word phobia (meaning ‘fear of’) with nomo, which is a portmanteau of no mobile. I don’t have a problem with portmanteaus in general. There are some really great words created by combining two other words, such as squish, squawk, motel, escalator, gerrymander, pixel, emoticon, and best of all, brunch.(4)

The problem is that, unlike all of those examples, nomo is already a root-word. The Greeks gave us the word nomos, which means the principles that govern human conduct, esp. as defined by culture or custom.(5) The root-word nomo is used to form words relating to laws or legislation. Hence we have nomocracy, a system of government based on a legal code. We have nomogenesis, a theory which regards evolutionary change as resulting from laws inherent in the nature of living organisms, rather than from external factors. There are nomism and nomotheism, which are both Christian approaches that bind everything – even God – to the strict adherence of universal laws.

So if anything, nomophobia would be a fear of law, a fear of strict code, or perhaps a fear of strict enforcement of the law. It would not be a fear of losing one’s mobile phone.

I’m not against making up words. I’m against making up words that make zero sense given the history of our language. Perhaps a better word would be perdiphonophobia, which is not only somewhat more etymologically accurate but also nicely hints at the purported perdition these without-their-phones people seem to be caught in. And it also has the advantage of not tromping over root-words that already exist.

I know this is a losing battle. I know that the seven people who read this blog(6) won’t be enough to actually change this nonsense word nomophobia. And frankly it’d probably be better that we rail against the phenomenon itself. But for right now I’m sticking with perdiphonophobia. If the two worst actresses of our time can win Academy Awards, there’s a least a chance that one man with one blog can eradicate a stupid word.


  1. Which autocorrect keeps changing to homophobia.
  2. Other than to talk about how ridiculous it is, obviously.
  3. My thinking here is that the unlikely probability of six sources having the same wrong information increases the probability that the information is correct. This thinking, by the way, is probably why I don’t work at the reference desk.
  4. Kinda wish staycation would just go, though.
  5. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, my friend and companion for many years now.
  6. Readership’s up a bit!
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