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Loomis, E.A., Jr. (1955). The Symbolic Meaning of the Elbow. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 3:697-700.

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(1955). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 3:697-700

The Symbolic Meaning of the Elbow

Earl A. Loomis, Jr., M.D.

Despite their presence in the average ratio of two per person and their manifest usefulness, elbows are commonly overlooked as psychological symbols. This is not the case with one whose elbow has been immobilized on account of a fracture or a burn and who ever so quickly discovered how important his missed function really was. Humor and slang also honor the elbow with a few signs of recognition: It is called the "funnybone" or "crazybone, " and if one is in a hurry, he or she may "elbow" his or her way through a crowd. "Bending the elbow" is a popular and often pathological pursuit, and its converse, probably equally or more pathological, is seen when elbows of young children are immobilized to prevent thumb sucking. Every anatomist and physician is also all too familiar with the elbow's orthopedic potentials. The elbow is really a remarkable joint, providing for flexion, extension, pronation, and supination, making possible hand-mouth approximation and immeasurably enhancing the range of usefulness of the hand. It is through the elbow that we clasp things to us and throw them away. To "give someone the elbow" is to make a hostile gesture, and to demand elbow room is to ask for space in which to live, work, or play.

This paper does not deal primarily with any of the above aspects of the elbow, although it is related to all of them—rather it consists of a few speculations growing out of a clinical observation.


1 Read before the Midwinter Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, December, 1953.

2 Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Director Children's Residential Treatment Service (Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinics).

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