Learn English – Why “shrink” (of a psychiatrist)


I know it originates from "head shrinking", but it doesn't help me a lot to understand the etymology. Why are psychiatrists called that? Is it like "my head is swollen [from anguish, misery, stress, etc.], I must have it shrunk"?

Best Answer

The word indeed comes from "head shrinker", and likely originates from the "shrunken heads" of tribal rituals. One possibility from World Wide Words:

All the early evidence suggests that the person who invented the psychiatrist sense worked in the movies (no jokes please). We have to assume that the term came about because people regarded the process of psychiatry as being like head-shrinking because it reduced the size of the swollen egos so common in show-business. Or perhaps they were suspicious about what psychiatrists actually did to their heads and how they did it and so made a joke to relieve the tension.