Balloons. Jell-O. Kites.
They’re three fairly innocent things you could find at a child’s birthday party. They’re also things that Roz Chast is afraid of.
Chast, an author and staff cartoonist for The New Yorker, put together an alphabetical list of things she hates, fears or is otherwise disturbed by in the form of a children’s book. Released last October, “What I Hate From A to Z” is a lighthearted look at a type of fear and paranoia that seems to affect millions of Americans.
The book is clever and brilliantly illustrated. The balloon page, for instance, depicts demented balloon enthusiasts encouraging the reader to “join the fun.” It’s almost enough to make you join Chast in saying, “No thanks.”
But Chast manages to broach a broader point with her unfounded fears. Human beings are afraid of some weird stuff.
Fears about heights, the dark or snakes make sense—those things can kill us. We have adapted through thousands of years of evolution to have an innate aversion to them. Even three-month-old babies show signs of fear when placed over an apparent “cliff.” Their heart rate accelerates, eyes grow wider and breathing rate increases.
But what about other fears? Irrational ones. We seem to have plenty of them.
Some people, for instance, are afraid of cotton balls. There’s even a name for it—Sidonglobophobia. It seems to only affect people in developed countries and some islands in the South Pacific. Researchers think it is the result of some “crossed wires” between the amygdala and the cerebral cortex, which actually looks like fluffy bits of cotton.
Some people are afraid of youth. Ephebiphobia, first known as the “fear and loathing of teenagers,” has manifested throughout history. Machiavelli, early American Puritans, industrial-era westerners, and Tony Blair’s administration have all been accused of having this phobia. Sufferers even crafted a weapon to keep them at bay. The Mosquito is a high-frequency emitting device that targets ears of the youth. The noise is annoying and sometimes painful, and can only be heard by young people.
A friend of mine has pittakionophobia, or the fear of stickers. He shudders whenever he buys something that has removable stickers on it and makes us take them off for him. Band-Aids cause the same reaction, especially when they’re used. But that’s understandable.
I personally become very uncomfortable when my hands are dirty. After touching a doorknob, any keyboard that isn’t mine or anything that leaves some type of debris, I feel an urgent need to wash my hands.
I’m also afraid of cat poop. Just thinking about it makes me ill. There isn’t a word for that. Ailurophobia is the fear of cats and coprophobia is the fear of feces, maybe I should combine them.
Odds are I won’t be the world’s first sufferer.