Translatable but Debatable – נפגעי חרדה

I ran across an item indicating that American politician Todd Akin is still trying to explain what he meant by using the term “legitimate rape” two years ago.  I feel for the guy, who was trying to refer unambiguously to the crime of nonconsensual sex now that the term “rape” has been broadened to include sex by incompetent consent, as in statutory rape and rape by deception. With the best or the worst of motivations, people try to fit what they oppose into a category that everyone opposes.  Thus a column in Haaretz claims that Israel can be categorized as an apartheid state because “South Africa is not part of the equation; at most it acts as a reference point” and anyway “Definitions and legalities are only part of the story.”  And notoriously, everything from abortion to chicken processing is equated to the Holocaust.

In the effort to improve social interaction, harsh speech has been redefined as “verbal violence.”  The problem is that these days when you read statistics about violence in schools or hospitals, you may not see a distinction offered between physical and verbal violence.  Of course verbal violence is also bad, but it’s a different thing and its definition is rather more subjective.

You can also find that the news media sometimes vacillate when it comes to the number of injured in a terror attack.  Those who in Hebrew are called נפגעי חרדה, suffering from “injuries of fear” as it were, may be numbered separately, or included without comment, or excluded altogether.  I believe in the distinction, although in all these cases the drawing of the distinction can lead to accusations of not taking matters seriously enough.

What do you call נפגעי חרדה in English?  Sometimes they’re said to be victims of trauma, but the word “trauma” has too many meanings.  I think a lot of people associate it with childhood psychological trauma.  It sounds like Traum, the German word for a dream, although actually it’s the Greek word for a wound.  I once worked with a fellow who was hard of hearing, and he said that the cause was trauma.  For a while, I thought he was like Tommy, the pinball wizard who was struck deaf, dumb, and blind because he witnessed a terrible event.  Then I realized that trauma can also refer to a damaging physical blow, or even a damagingly loud noise.

Sometimes witnesses at a violent scene are said to suffer from shock, but although in everyday English we say we’re shocked whenever something appalls us, medically shock is a quite specific reaction, including insufficient blood flow, and it may not describe the “injuries of fear” in every case.  Shock is הלם in Hebrew, not חרדה.

We’ve all heard of post-traumatic stress disorder.  I never quite understood whether it was a stress disorder that comes after trauma, or a disorder that comes after traumatic stress, but “traumatic stress” is a proper term and I believe that it makes clear the psychological nature of the injury.  A handout from Georgia Regents University describes the many possible symptoms of traumatic stress and the difference between traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder.  “The majority of people who experience a trauma will have some traumatic stress symptoms immediately following the traumatic event,” but only a minority develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

An older term for much the same thing is “shell shock,” or in Hebrew הלם קרב, but the term “shell shock” in English did not stay politically correct for long after its prevalence in World War I.  I’d say that “traumatic stress” is the best term today for the immediate psychological injury.  What’s your opinion?

Please feel free to comment in the space below.  But if you’d like to start a consideration of a different word or phrase, nothing to do with נפגעי חרדה, please write me at instead so that I can consider giving it a page of its own.

Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.