anal retentive
adj. a disposition oriented to fine details

This is a really interesting phrase. We’ve many of us used it before; I’d always wondered, but never investigated, why this particular phrase happens to be used in a context of someone who is fixated upon details and control and orderliness–a sort of OCD Lite.

In fact, the phrase—which is sometimes shortened to simply “anal”—originates in Freudian theory. The stage in psychosexual development which coincides with toilet training involves the child become aware of the fine muscle control required to retain or expunge feces. The gratification derived from this measure of rectal control—with its fine details—is the basis for the characterization of someone as “anal retentive.” That is to say, someone who feels compelled or derives satisfaction from the control of minute details—someone who has retained the “anal” disposition of their early childhood “anal” stage.

Contrast this with “anal expulsive” (bet you don’t hear that one nearly as often), which is the disposition of more disorganized and liberal-minded people for whom toilet training was not a rigorous affair.

See what you come up with when you do lots of cocaine?

§1825 · April 18, 2007 · Tags: , , ·

2 Comments to “Wednesday’s Word: anal retentive”

  1. Horizon says:

    Oh Ben… How I love you. :) I’m adding “anal expulsive” to my daily vocabulary now. :D

  2. Ben says:

    I used it last night at dinner: a perfect addition to the conversation.

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