You are here: Wild Ideas > Temple > Library >
Theriopsyche & Theriopneuma
By Lynna Landstreet/Lynx Canadensis.
Posted to alt.horror.werewolves
on Sun, Sep 19, 1999.
In article <37E43BDF.E8903A46@ionet.net>, Uncle Wolf <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>> ?????=greek word for spirit?
> pneuma and psyche, or that's reasonably close, are the Greek words you
> are looking for. Since psyche is also the root for mind, hence
> psychology, you probably want something along the lines of theriopneuma,
> if I recall the declension and gender of pneuma correctly.
has a double meaning, referring to both air or breath, and spirit,
stemming from the verb pnein -- to breathe. So this leads to
confusing words like "pneumatic", which can variously mean of
or working by air pressure, or or relating to air or gasses, or of or
relating to the spirit. Pneumatology is a 17th century term for the study
of spiritual beings or phenomena, while the most widely recognized word
derived from that root is, as Jaue pointed out, pneumonia!
Now, interestingly enough, psyche has a similar double meaning in
the original Greek referring to "breath, life, principle of life,
soul", although in this case the breath connection does not seem to
ave been carried through to the word's English derivatives. Psychein
is also a verb meaning to breathe (what the difference is between this and
pnein is a question best left to someone who is more famliar with
classical Greek than I am) -- but the adjectival form psychikos
(root of the English word "psychic") means "of the soul".
Mind is not mentioned in any of the definitions for the Greek roots that I
can find, but it is certainly the strongest modern English association with
psyche. The only English words I can find that seem to carry the
"soul" association of psyche are "psychic" and
possibly "psychedelic" (from psyuche + deloun, to
show, or delos, evident).
I'm not sure of the reason for the connection between breath and spirit in
both the roots pneuma and psyche, but I suspect it might be
connected with the idea of the soul entering the body with the first breath.
In any event, the air connection seems to have been more strongly retained in
English in the case of pneuma; psyche's most prevalent association, as
you point out, as mind -- although that is nowhere attested to in its Greek
So, theriopneuma and theriopsyche could both be workable terms for,
essentially, animal-spirit, and could both be functional replacements for
"phenotype". I'm no expert of gender and declension of Greek nouns
either, but I think that judging from the construction of the word
theriomorphic, the "o" is correct. In therianthropy, as in
lycanthropy, it's elided because the root of the second half starts with a
The first would carry the less desirable alternate implication of
animal-breath (or possibly animal-gas, which is something I really
don't want to contemplate!) and the second animal-mind. Animal-mind is an
interesting and not necessarily undesirable alternate meaninge, but it would
probably appeal more to some people than others, depending on their
particular view of therianthropy. Those who see it more as a state of mind
would like this term, while those who see it more as an innate, possibly
genetic or physically based condition, probably would not.
(a.k.a. Lynna Landstreet)
* All definitions, as usual for me, are from Merriam Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, 10th edition.
(Update [January 20, 2005]: In the years since I originally posted this
to the alt.horror.werewolves newsgroup, the word "phenotype", as used
to indicate the type of animal someone identifies with, seems to be falling out of
favour as more people become aware of the original biological meaning of that term.
A newly coined word, "theriotype", seems to be displacing it, which
while perhaps not as evocative as some of the suggestions above, at least
means exactly what it should: beast-type.)
All content copyright 1999-2006 by the
individual authors, where cited, or by
where not specifically credited.
Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
Site design: Spider Silk Design - Toronto web designers
This page last modified: January 29, 2006