By now, you’re probably well aware that I’ve always got time for an interesting etymology.
You’re also probably equally aware that I’m always wary of an apparent etymology that just seems too good to be true.
Yesterday, I came across what I assumed was a case of the latter.
I was reading Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths: 1, when he mentioned that the word panic is derived from a sudden shout uttered by the god Pan which sent the Titans fleeing in the war between the Greek gods and the Titans.
Alarm bells immediately started ringing, as it just seemed too convenient. Plus, this was the 1950s, when respected authors could make definitive statements and not have them immediately questioned by people googling them.
I thought it was more likely that the word panic might have something to do with the prefix pan- (all, every, whole), maybe related to the idea of chaos being all around you in a moment of panic.
But of course I had to do my due diligence, and it turns out Graves was right! Panic does indeed come from the Greek panikon (pertaining to Pan), though some feel it’s derived from his tendency to cause fear and confusion among crowds or lonely people in the woods, with mysterious sounds, as opposed to his legendary Titan-scaring cry.
So my apologies to Robert Graves, who clearly, like me, had done his research!