or germophobe

What does germaphobe mean?

A germaphobe is a person who is afraid of germs or who has an obsessive compulsion toward cleanliness to the point that their life is impacted by their urge to constantly clean their hands and living spaces. Germaphobes may or may not have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Examples of germaphobe


Examples of germaphobe
“Now Mar a Lago has critical health violations. Mr. Germaphobe my ass.”
@Nowhereurgoin Twitter (April 13, 2017)
“I don't know how you can be a germaphobe & a mom simultaneously. I've never had so much literal crap on my hands in my life. #momlife”
Lydia Engram @LLEngram Twitter (April 20, 2017)
“MYTH: OCD is just about cleaning, hand-washing and being a ‘germaphobe.’”
Ralph Ryback, “4 Myths About OCD,” Psychology Today (May 9, 2016)

Where does germaphobe come from?


A germaphobe literally refers to someone who is fearful (-phobe) of germs (germa-). The earliest uses of the word are rhetorical or humorous. Germophobia appears in an 1893 edition of the journal Medical Record: “Law is intended for sinners; and germophobia does its fine work among the criminal classes—those who get sick, I mean, through willful [sic] or indifferent violation of the hygienic precepts of the physical decalogue.” Germophobe appears the following year as a snarky signature to a letter to London’s historic Punch magazine: “Are these microbes season-ticket-holders? If so, what are the companies about? Germaphobe.”

Its early colorful uses aside, germaphobia is commonly associated with mysophobia, an irrational fear of contamination, which American doctor William Alexander Hammond first coined and identified as a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in 1879. Some germaphobes may clinically suffer from OCD and related disorders, which manifest themselves as intense and debilitating fear of germs. Others germaphobes, however, have an excessive, though not pathological, compulsion towards neatness or revulsion to dirt and bacteria.

Outside of clinical contexts, people often label themselves germaphobes to explain certain behaviors, which include avoiding shaking hands with other people, ritually continually cleaning surfaces at home and in public, and an obsession with trying not to get sick. A number of celebrities, including Charlize Theron and Howie Mandel, have spoken out about being germaphobes and the negative effect it has had on their lives. Germaphobes have also featured in popular media, such as in characters like Adrian Monk of from crime comedy Monk and Peggy, Elaine’s coworker in season 9 of Seinfeld.

President Donald Trump made headlines in January 2017 by calling himself “very much a germaphobe” to dismiss allegations that he participated in unsanitary activities with Russian prostitutes, though he had told the Hollywood Reporter he wasn’t germaphobic in 2015. For his comments, Ben Guarino writing for The Washington Post, called Trump the “germaphobe in chief.” Google searches for the word germaphobe in spiked almost 900% January 2017 from the nearest high, likely because of Trump’s statement.

Who uses germaphobe?

While it can refer to a person with a clinical fear of germs as a result of OCD, a germaphobe can casually refer to someone whose preference for tidiness and cleanliness is considered abnormal, often used by such individuals themselves. Those diagnosed with OCD whose symptoms manifest as germaphobia are sometimes offended by more flippant uses of germaphobe. Germaphobe is sometimes used, out of disrespect or ignorance of the condition, as a generic term for a person with OCD, due to popular stereotypes about OCD symptoms, e.g., compulsive hand-washing.

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