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Sharpe, E.F. (1946). A Note on 'The Magic of Names'. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 27:152.

(1946). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 27:152

A Note on 'The Magic of Names'

Ella Freeman Sharpe

We are told that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Would the 'good object' and the 'bad object' be as 'good' or as 'bad' if scientific names were found for them?

If not, presumably the terms have become indispensable in scientific nomenclature. They have their disadvantages, valuable as they may be as symbols of nostalgic longings for the wholly 'good' as an escape from the wholly 'bad'.

Of all words in the English language they are the least discriminating. Poetic words have always an individual reference. Scientific language is exact. For the unconscious super-ego 'good' and 'bad' have the static significance of 'non-sexual' and 'sexual'.

It seems inadvisable to use as scientific terms those that below consciousness appeal to the super-ego, and this is the main argument against their employment.

'Good' and 'Bad' are the flags under which nationalisms and ideologies march, gaining recruits through a contagious belief in a good object. 'Good' and 'Bad' are the magical words of propaganda by which mass psychology is manipulated. The repetition of scientific concepts such as 'Oedipus Complex' could never acquire the power of an incantation. Such power is inherent in the frequent repetition of 'good' and 'bad' as we know only too well from childhood to old age.

It seems paradoxical that psycho-analysis which aims at making individuals capable of resistance to mass psychology is driven to use phrases that are its mouthpieces.

It should not be beyond the power of a scientific society to find terms less appealing to the unconscious super-ego. The difficulty perhaps is that 'satisfying', 'frustrating', while adequate in meaning are inadequate in conveying the feeling of absolutism.

The enclosure of the words 'good' and 'bad' in inverted commas as far as printing is concerned would do something to indicate a specialized meaning. This device, however, does not affect the influence of verbal usage, if habitual on an analyst's part in practical work.

If 'good' and 'bad' objects are now indispensable terms it might be useful in print to use capital letters, thus, 'The Good Object', 'The Bad Object'. Such usage might keep nearer to consciousness the implied ultimate reference to 'God' and the 'Devil'.

If we cannot find more discriminating epithets may it not be because of the incantation power through sheer repetition of 'The Good Object', 'The Bad Object' and proof enough of the common unconscious belief in white and black magic?

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