“They start to break out in rashes and hives…”

I’ve been saving my Salem Witchcraft Trial revelations for the end of October, and here comes the end of October, so expect a few days of the supernatural.

Today’s quotation has to do with the children who accused their neighbors of witchcraft and testified at the trials. My student has the explanation for their behavior, and for the condition behind their behavior:

“They start to break out in rashes and hives, because the children are psychosomatic. They make believe things are going to happen, until they really do.”

I love that the word “psychosomatic” is so beautifully spelled but the writer doesn’t seem to have grasped (or looked up) its meaning. And I think I really like the meaning he made up.

Had he written “the children are psychosomatics,” he would have been safely in the graces of Webster’s Collegiate, which does give a noun usage denoting someone suffering from psychosomatic symptoms or illnesses. Current thinking is that people shouldn’t be referred to as their diseases (a psychotic, a neurotic, the kidney in room 114…), but when my student was writing we hadn’t yet moved to this level of awareness.

He didn’t use the word as a noun, though; he used it as an adjective, giving us the concept of psychosomatic children, which would mean children who resulted from the interaction between the mind and body, the psyche and the soma. That is, they might be the products of hysterical (false) pregnancies, if hysterical pregnancies actually produced children.

If they had the power to become actual children as a result of false pregnancies, then evidently they were their own parents, since they’re the ones who made things happen: “They make believe things are going to happen, until they really do.” This definition is possibly in the same house as “psychosomatic,” but not actually there in the room with it.

Still, I wouldn’t mind having their power, whatever it’s called. If making believe something will happen can cause it to actually occur, I’m going to start making believe I win the megamillions lottery (not the stoning one!) and see what happens.


About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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