Printable Version
Pronunciation: æf-flu-en-zê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Anxiety caused by work overload, debt, and waste resulting from extreme consumerism. 2. A psychological condition supposedly affecting the rich, the symptoms of which are lack of motivation, a lack of any feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation; the sudden-wealth syndrome.

Notes: The concept of affluenza was introduced at the beginning of the millennium by John de Graaf, environmentalist David Wann, and economist Thomas Naylor in their 2001 book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. The media has assumed the second, colloquial sense of the word in reporting the trial of Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old rich boy who killed four people while driving drunk. Couch's lawyers used affluenza as a defense. Their client was sentenced to 10 years probation and a year of psychological treatment. Couch was not tried as an adult.

In Play: The original researched description of this condition was supposed to name the results of hyperconsumerism, hence it applied to the middle class as well as to the rich: "Sunny Day isn't depressed; she has affluenza from all the debt she has amassed from her shopping sprees." But the popular (and simpler) definition seems to dominate the news media: "I think Portia Carr caught affluenza from something in her fourth house."

Word History: The word affluenza is what linguists call "a blend", a word created from blending two words together. Lewis Carroll would have called it "a portmanteau word", a word carrying two other words. In this case, the two words are affluent and influenza, Affluent was borrowed from Latin affluen(t)s "flowing to, abundant, copious", the present participle of affluere "to flow toward", made up of ad "to(ward)" + fluere "flow". The participle of this word was fluen(t)s, the origin of the English word fluent. Influenza was borrowed from Italian, which inherited it from Latin influentia "influence". The connection between the ideas of "influence" and "flu" is explained by the medieval notion that illness is the result of the influence of the stars.

Dr. Goodword,

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