As the title of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film, “Psycho,” suggests, the word psycho is a creepy and mysterious one. The character of Norman Bates in this classic psychological thriller is a perfect example of the type of evil person that psychos are often associated with. While this characterization of psychopaths in movies and in popular culture is often exaggerated, there’s no doubt that psychopathy is a real condition that affects many people.
In the past, "psycho" was a prefix to longer words like psychology (psycho+logy), psychosomatic, and psychopath, but it gradually became a stand-alone word. This presumably happened because it was easier for laypersons to pronounce and understand than the longer psychiatric terms. Over time, the word also gained a negative connotation and people began using it to refer to someone who was crazy or insane. It is important to note that calling someone a psycho is inappropriate, derogatory, and bullying, and that only physicians and psychiatrists are qualified to diagnose psychiatric conditions.
Moreover, using the word psycho to describe someone’s behavior is inaccurate because most psychopathic people do not commit serious crimes and are not dangerous. This obsession with the word psycho is evident in our culture, from the movie images of Jack Nicholson as a murderous psychopath to the more recent portrayal of Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy as lovable law students and aides. This is a troubling trend, as it stigmatizes people with mental health disorders and can cause them to be ostracized by society.