The term “schizophrenia” was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1908. With the term’s introduction, Bleuer ultimately replaced ‘dementia praecox‘, a term first used by Arnold Pick (of Pick’s disease) to categorize a similar disorder (or group of disorders). The essence of schizophrenia as described by Bleuler is the ‘loosening of the associations’ between personality, thinking, memory and perception. Dementia praecox has a different focus, describing patients having a global disruption of perceptual and cognitive processes (dementia) together with early onset (praecox). I’ve written about different conceptions of schizophrenia in the past.
The word “schizophrenia” derives from Greek roots and translates approximately as “splitting of the mind”. It is often written that, because of this, schizophrenia is misconstrued to mean having a split or multiple personality. Otherwise known as ‘dissociative identity disorder‘ a ‘split personality’ is where a person has two or more distinct identities or personalities alternatively in control of his or her behaviour. I’m not absolutely convinced this disorder exists in a straightforward sense but anyway, our current understanding of schizophrenia is that it’s nothing like that at all.
“Starbucks is a schizophrenic brand”
This brings me to the point I wish to make. For affected people, and their families, schizophrenia can be pretty devastating. But rather than simply used to refer to this, “schizophrenic” is also used quite commonly to mean “inconsistent and contradictory”. Here’s an example from Radio 4’s Today programme and another from the Guardian. Today’s presenter, Evan Davies, doesn’t hesitate at talk of Starbucks as a “schizophrenic brand”. “Irish” used to be used in quite a similar way, but I doubt Davies could have let talk of Starbucks as an “Irish brand” pass without reproof. “Schizophrenic” used in this way is a misappropriation, and one which perpetuates misunderstanding and disparages a vulnerable group of people. I don’t know why it remains so acceptable.
Inquiry into the schizophrenia label has published on whether we should use the term ‘schizophrenia’ at all
I haven’t read it, but this book – American Madness: the rise and fall of dementia praecox – looks v. interesting. It charts how DP lost out to schizophrenia in the nosology ‘arms race’.
(June 2018 review – Evan Davies now presents Newsnight; I don’t know if he still uses ‘schizophrenic’ in the above sense.