AskDefine | Define erethism

Dictionary Definition

erethism n : an abnormally high degree of irritability or sensitivity or excitability

User Contributed Dictionary



From éréthisme, from , from ‘to irritate’.




  1. Abnormal excitement of a bodily organ or tissue.
  2. Any unusual or morbid over-excitement.
    • 1978: Since the eighteenth century, sex has not ceased to provoke a kind of generalized discursive erethism. — Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge, trans. Robert Hurley (Penguin 1998, p. 32)

Extensive Definition

Erethism or erethism mercurialis is a symptom complex of mercury poisoning, presenting with excessive shyness, timidity and social phobia. This was common among hat makers of old England who used mercury to stabilize the wool in a process called felting. The character the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is often believed to be an example of someone suffering from erethism, but this account is apocryphal. The character was almost certainly based on Theophilus Carter, an eccentric furniture dealer who was well known to Carroll.


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