Two thirds of us live in fear of being without our mobile phones, a new survey has said. It seems that as a nation, we are suffering from nomophobia.
Yes, that really is nomophobia, derived from ‘no-mobile-phobia’ and meaning ‘the fear of being out of mobile phone contact’.
OK, many of us worry about losing our phones. I certainly do. I worry about putting it somewhere and not knowing where it is, or someone stealing it, or dropping it down the toilet (loomophobia?). But to attempt to give this a name that implies it is a mental condition, that you could get treatment for it, no, this seems a step too far.
You could be forgiven for thinking this is a brand new word, dreamt up in the last week by a PR agent desperate to get coverage for a story about a new mobile application that makes your phone grow legs and chase after you so you are never out of contact.
But no. It turns out that nomophobia is nearly four years old, and dates from a Post Office survey of 2008 about mobile phone usage. The word was coined at the time. But it is not in dictionaries, you will struggle to find an online meaning for it, and it is only being heard now because it has been reused in a fresh survey which pretty much rehashes what was said four years ago.
So what does this tell us from a language point of view? Broadly, a word will not catch on if it is not covering a semantic gap. The world has not been crying out for a word to describe fear of losing a mobile, it sounds like a gimmicky word created to support a story, and therefore it didn’t stick the first time. In addition, it’s not a very good word, because it is not immediately obvious what it means when you hear it. When I first heard the word, I thought it might be fear of small red-hatted creatures standing at the bottom of your garden.
I strongly suspect that nomophobia will disappear from consciousness as quickly as it reappeared this week, and may only resurface to feature in a list of the most annoying words of the year.