Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sturm, Drang, and Stress

I recently learned that the word "stress," as used in medical and psychological terms, was coined in the 1940s by the Austrian endocrinologist Hans Selye. He got it from the often-used word "distress" (bad stress), which comes from Middle English. In 1950 he coined the word "stressor." In 1975 Selye coined the rarely-used word "eustress" (good stress), that he got from the presence of stress in biology. Clearly the translation of "Sturm und Drang" as "Storm and Stress" is a misnomer because before the meaning of "stress" as a psychological term or an emotional state wasn't used in the middle of the 18th century. Haydn certainly didn't use it to describe his contribution to what music historians called (and still call) musical "Sturm und Drang."

The term "Sturm und Drang" comes from the title of a 1776 play by Friedrich von Klinger, who died in 1831. It didn't make its way into general use (in other words people using it not to talk about the play) until 1845. Klinger, incidentally, worked for Grand Duke Paul in St. Petersburg. It's a small world.

[The term is kind of like the use of the term "Ponzi scheme," named for Charles Ponzi, or the casual mention of "red tape." Following links in Wikipedia can induce a sort of eustress, I suppose.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Drang does not mean stress, but rather an urging or pressure to move towards something. This can mean natural forces or used to describe men's actions.

In the same way, Sturm can be applied as a military term, as well as mean storm. The storming of the Bastille was a storm, after all.

The image of Sturm und Drang is of mighty forces and movement.

Somehow psychological stress in comparison seems more a drizzle and less a mighty storm, for today's focus of the self is a very different thing than an Enlightenment mentality in which freedom meant more than a choice of "you want fries with that?"