It started innocently enough, as many ideas do.
First developed by a physician attempting to treat a psychotic woman, this idea came to dominante people’s concept of physical and spiritual health in the late 18th century.
It reached its peak around the time of the French and American Revolutions. Thomas Jefferson, King Louis XVI and Ben Franklin all independently investigated its validity.
The debris from this idea lingered in the orbit of Western consciousness for nearly a century in total.
The man who hatched this idea egg was named Franz Mesmer.
There was just one problem:
His idea wasn’t actually true.
Mesmer’s idea was that people and animals possess a force which he called “animal magnetism”.
Our quality and quantity of “animal magnetism” determined such charateristics as our ability to heal from injuries and sickness. It also influenced our personalities and emotional states.
Mesmer believed that “animal magnetism” was a physical fluid present in our bodies. Good health depended on the unobstructed flow of this fluid throughout us. If this flow was blocked or impeded, then you would become ill.
Mesmer realized he could use magnets to manipulate that fluid and remove blockages in patients. Once the flow of your magnetism returned, you’d be cured.
The healing technique itself was very, let’s say, minimalistic.
He would sit facing his patients, his knees and shins and hands and forearms touching yours. He would look deeply into your eyes for longer than normal. He would match his patients’ breathing rate and then pace it slower, until the two of you were breathing in harmony.
Then, once the patient had entered that state of relaxation between consciousness and rest, he would slowly begin rubbing his magnets and hands across your arms, legs, torsoe and even your face. The whole time, he would tell you what physical effects you were feeling, and what changes in your health would result from this.
Today, we call this hypnosis.
His idea exploded. It quickly spread across Europe and then into the New World.
That fame attracted the attention of royals, scientists, and other physicians.
With that attention came inquiry. Inquiry after inquiry could not find any physical evidence for this magnetism.
It soon became apparent that Mesmer’s cure only worked because his patients believed and imagined it would.
Eventually, in a desperate bid to prove himself, Mesmer tried to cure a blind man. When he failed, he left public life forever.
Back then, news didn’t travel so fast.
It would take months to years for news of Mesmer’s disgrace to reach the American frontier. Mesmer’s treatments had become established habit and would remain so for decades.
By that time, people had already coined a new word for his treatment:
Thus, I would like to propose a new word for the English language.
This word will describe a word which is still used even though the factual premise behind the word has been proven untrue.
Think of it like a piece of lingual debris from an intellectual plane crash.
Unfortunately, I’ve yet to think of an appropriate name for this idea, only its definition.