Why do people use "anal" that way?

You know, how people use it to mean “obsessive-compulsive”? My dictionary says it means (paraphrased) (a) like unto an anus or (b) (from psychoanalysis) having to do with the anal period of libidinal development.

There are a couple of Freudian concepts that spring to mind: anal-expulsive, meaning gregarious and ambitious, and anal-retentive, meaning sort of the opposite (cautious, jealous, risk-averse, I don’t recall too clearly). I don’t know how either of these would map to the pop definition of “anal” though.

Your honest opinion: Do you think it is appropriate to use this term in a professional context? I am kind of taken aback whenever I hear it, which is like a hundred times a day. Pop definition or no, its first meaning is still “like unto an anus”. I mean, “invaginate” means “to envelop or enclose” … do you hear generals saying, “In the next phase of the plan, we invaginate the enemy.”

Of course, people refer to themselves this way all the time, which adds a whole new terrifying dimension to the mess. “I have a Freudian neurosis involving private body functions!”? I don’t hear men use it this way very often; I hear mostly middle-aged women use it this way. Pre-adolescent boys call each other buttholes; middle-aged women call themselves buttholes …?

It’s short for anal-retentive:
Main Entry: anal
Pronunciation: 'A-n&l
Function: adjective
Date: 1769
1 : of, relating to, or situated near the anus <anal fin>
2 a : of, relating to, characterized by, or being the stage of psychosexual development in psychoanalytic theory during which the child is concerned especially with its feces b : of, relating to, characterized by, or being personality traits (as parsimony, meticulousness, and ill humor) considered typical of fixation at the anal stage of development <anal disposition> <anal neatness>

  • anal·ly /-n&l-E/ adverb**

“Anal”, as it’s colloquially used, is short for “anal-retentive”. It describes a person who is very particular and rigid as to how things are done. That is, they have to follow The Roolz in order to make sure things are done properly (and things must be done properly!).

I thought I read somewhere that anal-retentiveness has been discredited as a psychological condition. But I’m not anal enough to have to go look it up. :wink:

I think it is used in place of the word “perfectionist” because that somehow sounds positive while of course, everyone secretly hates a perfectionist. :wink: “Anal-retentive” (or “anal”) is much more negative sounding.

"… do you hear generals saying, “In the next phase of the plan, we invaginate the enemy.” "

Only the anal-retentive generals.


:laughing to himself:

As I was waiting for the thread to load I realized I was sorting my Skittles by color before eating them. Oh, christ, I need more entertainment around here.

The Anal-Retentive Chef skit on SNL was always a hoot. Being a bit a-r myself, I told a friend that when I moved into my new apartment and only had a salf cellar and pepper shaker the alphabetizing of the spices went very quickly.

Yep, anal retentive…constipated. I’ve know a couple of people who appeared to be in a perpetual state of constipation. Here have an EX-LAX, and wipe that frown of your face while you’re in there.


I think that SoMoMom has the right answer. There is a scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen says “That’s because I’m anal” and Annie Hall says, “That’s a nice way of describing what you are.”

Freud figured that you could tell what kind of person a kid would turn out to be by observing him as a baby and noticing whether he’s inclined to shit all over himself (anal expulsive) or hold it back (anal retentive). Most people don’t buy this theory anymore, but the term anal retentive remains.

The phrase is based on Freudian theory.

anal stage

I figured there was a Freud connection. I still don’t know why anal-retentive beat out anal-expuslive for sole rights to the abbreviation. I have a theory though - most people don’t regard anal-expulsion as a problem, while anal-retention is very common and very unpopular. I mean, everybody pretty much thinks everybody else is obstinate and meticulous.

Once I wanted to alphabetize my cassette collection (not much use alphabetize all ten of my CDs!), and a friend of mine accused me, using the term I prefer (obsessive-compulsive). The irony is, I always thought she was obsessive-compulsive because she would kiss her hand and touch the ceiling whenever she drove by a car with a headlight out. But I know that OCD and anal-retention aren’t really the same thing.

How about the other question … is this socially acceptable? I’m not trying to invaginate you with questions, but I’m wondering to what degree it is appropriate to ejaculate words in public when they have anatomical/physiological connotations. Obviously, the social acceptability of words changes over time … tell a wench that she stinks quite nicely, and she might not take it as a compliment.

I think anal-retentive behavior is actually a fairly complex issue. No one is anal-retentive absolutely. There are many varieties of anal retentive behavior that differ in style as much as in intensity.

Me, I’m a slob. My apartment is a mess. But if I see a bowl of Skittles, I’ll separate the colors and arrange them in ROY G BIV order.

A co-worker of mine maintains the library shelves with elaborate record keeping, redundant dummy blocks and attention to detail that goes beyond any pragmatic need. But he’ll use yellowed, wrinkled scrap paper that somebody was going to throw away to take notes in class. It drives me crazy to see him use the stuff. I think, “How can a guy this fussy live with this paper. Gads!”

I, too find it bizarre to hear people in business use the phrase “He’s so anal”. I think it’s just an odd choice of words. I also have two co-workers who say “We’ll be getting production moving pretty hot and heavy in the next few weeks”. Hot and heavy? I always think of that as something you get in the back seat of a car…

Then again, I’m pretty anal-expulsive. (Wouldn’t you love to hear that in mainstream conversation?)

Seems logical to me. But then I wipe my ass with a Q-Tip.

[Iniego Montoya voice]I don think that word means what you think it means [/Montoya] :wink:

It seems like the question has been answered, but I thought I’d add that I found a great link on the subject.

How to tell if you’re anal rententive.

That’s it. I am now going to start introducing myself as compulsively anal-expulsive. That should get me some dates!