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Grumet, G.W. (1989). Emotional Aspects of Motoring. Psychoanal. Rev., 76(1):19-36.

(1989). Psychoanalytic Review, 76(1):19-36

Emotional Aspects of Motoring

Gerald W. Grumet, M.D.

On the morning of September 20, 1893, 23-year-old J. Frank Durea rolled out an experimental gasoline powered carriage onto Spruce Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. As three associates pushed, the vehicle's engine sprang to life belching clouds of exhaust smoke as it rattled noisily ahead under its own power for 200 feet before stalling at curbside. This is believed to be the first journey of an American-built gasoline vehicle (Sears, 1977). By the time Durea died in 1967, at the age of 97, the industrial world had witnessed an automotive revolution few could have foreseen.

The automobile's enormous impact on life in the twentieth century is reflected in the ways that automobile jargon and themes of motility have become enmeshed in language depicting our emotional states and life events. In psychiatry we talk of impulses as “drives” and might describe a highly energetic person as “driven.” Similarly, an intense or active person may be called “accelerated,” “a fast mover,” “a big wheel,” “a self-starter,” or described as “in the driver's seat,” or living life “in the fast lane.” Depressed or unsuccessful persons may complain of being “at a standstill,” “stalled,” “immobilized,” “out of gas,” “unable to get started,” “at a dead end,” “slowed down,” or just “spinning my wheels.” Since driving one's car is an exercise in movement and advancement, the successful person can be given automotive-type labels such as being able “to get ahead,” “to go places,” or “to come out in front.” Advancements in life seem to coincide unconsciously with forward locomotion while failures are seen as the equivalents of immobility.

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