OVER THE centuries, hysteria has been applied as a label for almost any ailment which was, at the time, obscure. For example, Richard Whytt,1 physician to His Majesty George III and president of the Royal College of Physicians, described 200 years ago many "hysterical" syndromes which one can recognize as rheumatic fever, peptic ulcer, etc. While there has been some revival of interest in clarifying the meaning of the diagnosis of "hysteria" or "conversion reaction" and what specific processes in the patient are implied thereby, there remains considerable confusion in medical and in everyday usage.
Any discussion of hysteria with colleagues reveals that everyone is well informed and clear in one's own mind on the subject of hysteria until one begins to try to discuss it with someone else, at which point confusion in communication appears. We are like Alice, in that the word hysteria means what we