[ klaw-struh-fohb ]
/ ˈklɔ strəˌfoʊb /
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a person with claustrophobia.
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Origin of claustrophobe

First recorded in 1910–15; back formation from claustrophobia;see also -phobe
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does claustrophobe mean?

Claustrophobe is a term once commonly used to refer to someone who has claustrophobia—the fear of being in (and not being able to get out of) small or confined spaces, such as tunnels, elevators, and crowded rooms.

Claustrophobia is recognized as a psychological disorder and is often considered a kind of anxiety disorder. Those who are diagnosed with it often experience extreme anxiety when in confined spaces or when facing the possibility of being in one, which can result in a panic attack. But the word claustrophobia is also commonly used in a more general way to refer to the anxious discomfort that many people feel when they’re in an enclosed space. (In this way, many people’s feelings of claustrophobia don’t constitute a disorder.)

Some people with claustrophobia may still use the term claustrophobe to refer to themselves, but this and many other similar labels based on medical conditions are often considered dehumanizing. It is now typically preferred to avoid the use of the word claustrophobe and focus on the person first instead of their condition, as in Kevin has claustrophobia (not Kevin is a claustrophobe) and People with claustrophobia (not Claustrophobes) usually avoid driving in tunnels.

A person who has claustrophobia can be described as claustrophobic. This adjective can also be used to describe confined spaces that may make people feel this way.

Phobias are fears associated with specific objects or activities. These abnormal (unusual) fears are typically considered irrational (not based on reason) because the object of the fear isn’t usually harmful. Often, these fears are formed around a traumatic event.

Where does claustrophobe come from?

The first records of the word claustrophobe come from the early 1900s. The beginning comes from the Latin claustr(um), meaning “barrier.” The ending -phobe refers to a person with a specific phobia and comes from a Greek word meaning “fear.” The word germaphobe (someone with a fear of germs) is formed in the same way.

Traditionally, the word claustrophobe was applied to people experiencing claustrophobia in a way that rises to the level of an anxiety disorder (which may include symptoms like anxiety, hyperventilation, tightness in the chest, trembling, and panic attacks). But it was also used in a more general way to refer to anyone who experiences feelings of discomfort in tight spaces. Like other words that end in -phobe to refer to people with certain phobias, claustrophobe is now often avoided by medical and mental health professionals.

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How to use claustrophobe in a sentence

  • No matter what a claustrophobe promises, he can't work in a mine.

    Black Man's Burden|Dallas McCord Reynolds