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The term scoptophilia, subsequently replaced by scopophilia, took its place in Anglophone psychoanalytic literature as a translation of the Freudian notion of Schaulust, "pleasure in looking," in the sense of both seeing and being seen, as well as "curiosity." Freud distinguished between two frequently encountered forms of this partial drive: one active, "voyeurism," and the other passive, "exhibitionism," neither of which he would necessarily rank among perversions (1910a [1909]).

As early as 1936, Ernest Jones wrote a critique of Howard C. Warren's Dictionary of Psychology in which he noted that the Glossary of Psychoanalytical Terms, which Jones edited in 1924 in preparation for the planned Standard Edition, contained "an important mistake . . . , one which has been widely copied in psycho-analytical literature, namely, the incorrect term scoptophilia, which should be scopophilia " (p. 247). In 1963, James Strachey gave a more detailed explanation: "I must admit that the Glossary Committee disgraced itself lamentably over at least one word. The question was how to translate 'Schaulust 'the pleasure in looking. Greek terminology was all the rage, and the word 'scoptophilia' was suggested and accepted with acclamation. It certainly looked a little odd; but nevertheless it passed into all the four volumes of the Collected Papers uncriticized. You might have imagined that we should have remembered telescopes and microscopes and so have suspected that the Greek root for looking was something like 'scop.' Actually there is a Greek root 'scopt,' but what it means is 'to make fun of.' And so to this day you may still come upon references to the component sexual instinct of pleasure in derision" (p. 229).

In fact, just as Bruno Bettelheim wrote in Freud and Man 's Soul, both terms are wrong and "the monstrosity contrived by Freud's translators and perpetuated in the Standard Edition "scopophilia"certainly conveys nothing at all" (p. 91). He comments moreover that this seems a betrayal of Freudian thought: "It would admittedly be difficult to find a single English word to express what Freud had in mind with Schaulust a term that combines the German word for lust, or sexual desire, with that for looking, seeing, or contemplatingbut a phrase on the order of 'the sexual pleasure in looking' would make his meaning clear; or since 'lust' is the near equivalent of the German Lust and has the further advantage that it can be used both as a noun and as a verb, it might be preferable to 'sexual pleasure.' In either case, the reader would know immediately what is meant. Since we have all repeatedly experienced great pleasure in watching something, in taking it in with our eyes, and have occasionally been ashamed of doing so, or even been afraid to look, although we wished to see, it would be easy to have both a direct intellectual and emotional understanding of Freud's concept" (p. 90-91).

Several hundred articles by the most illustrious names in psychoanalysis nevertheless testify to the persistence of the use of these two suspect terms up to the present daya particularly striking example of the absurd errors that can be passed on from text to text.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Exhibitionism; Identification with the aggressor; Look/gaze; Voyeurism.


Bettelheim, Bruno. (1983). Freud and man's soul. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Freud, Sigmund. (1910a [1909]). Five lectures on psychoanalysis. SE, 11: 7-55.

Jones, Ernest. (1936). Review of the "Dictionary of psychology." (Howard C. Warren, Ed.) London: Allen and Unwin. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 17, 247-248.

Strachey, James. (1963). Obituary of Joan Riviere, 1883-1962. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 44, 228-230.