anal, anal-retentive

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Phryne

Senior Member
Argieland--Esp/Eng
Hi everybody!

There's this term "anal"--as a synonym of "meticulous" or "particular--that I hear people saying it all the time, and I use it myself as well. I wasn't sure how to spell it so I looked it up in the dictionary without any luck. Finally, I asked somebody and I was told that the complete term could be "anal-retentive".

a·nal-re·ten·tive (nl-r-tntv)
adj. Psychology
Indicating personality traits, such as meticulousness, avarice, and obstinacy, originating in habits, attitudes, or values associated with infantile pleasure in retention of feces.
(dictionary.com)

So I learned that this term comes from Psychology and it’s related to the "anal stage".
Anyway, I was wondering what you think of this. Do you use "anal" alone with the meaning of "meticulous"? Is it common to relate it to the psychological meaning of it? Do you think it's inappropriate to use it in an academic environment? How formal/informal is it?

Thanks a lot!!!! :)
MJ

Edit: I'm not asking about the psychological term "anal-retentive", but "anal". I also know it is derogatory.
I just want to get the feeling of when I should use it, and what my listener would think.
 
  • ameridude

    Member
    USA/English
    First off, the term "anal-retentive" refers to a stage in psychological theory that isn't universally accepted.

    The term has a rather negative connotation; it should not be used in reference to someone who is just "meticulous" or "careful". It refers more to obstinate perfectionistic traits. If you are familiar with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, then you understand what I'm getting at.

    In common speech, you can use the term, as it will be understood. Nonetheless, I would not use it in polite company, as it is rather vulgar. Aside from that, I would also caution against telling someone that they are "anal retentive," since it is quite rude.
     

    Phryne

    Senior Member
    Argieland--Esp/Eng
    Thanks ameridude, that clears things up a lot. I would like to say that I'm talking about "anal". I would never use "anal-retentive" since I'm not that familiar with the psychological theory behind it.

    saludos :)
     

    mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    I believe that the term anal comes from the full term used by Sigmund Freud, which is anal retentive. The original term has to do with shame and judgment of self, which, in turn, makes a person judgmental of others, as well. The so-called anal retentive person, because of self-judgment and fear of scrutiny from others, does everything as meticulously perfect as possible.

    Anal in more common usage, at least in my experience, is defined as going to great lengths to get something exactly as the person wants it themselves, and how they might want others to do it. The shame and judgment are not highlighted in its common usage.

    Caveat: If someone anal is meticulous out of fear of judgment, rather than out of pride and joy, they are probably anal retentive in the Freudian sense, as well.

    I agree that it is a perjorative term when speaking of others.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Yup, definitely taboo in educated/polite settings.

    Otherwise, you can use either "anal retentive" or "anal" in a joking manner. Example: My teacher is really anal about what color pen we use.
     

    Phryne

    Senior Member
    Argieland--Esp/Eng
    Thank you so much for your contribution, ameridude, mjscott and elroy! ;)

    garrynight and eugueule, thanks for the great sense of humor!!! :thumbsup: :D
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    egueule said:
    Don't talk about people having meticulous sex, either.:D
    Oh God, I'm SO tempted to say something here. :D

    At any rate, I think this is another phrase that can be harmless in almost any situation depending on your intention, but I agree that people should be careful. Saying it to the wrong person could have very negative consequences.

    It's probably most safe to use it directed at yourself, in this manner:

    "I'm very anal about…"

    Here it would be clear that you're poking fun at yourself. :)

    Gaer
     

    te gato

    Senior Member
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    I agree also..
    I do use it..but only with people I know..then I know that they will not take offence to it...
    Like when someone goes on and on..yadda,yadda..about how you Just did not do something correct..the littlest thing....the way they wanted it done..then I usualy say..'Oh quit being so anal'..or...'you are so anal'..
    usually this is directed at my brother who is anally..anal-retentive..and a big pain in the a** to boot!!!:D

    tg;)
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    te gato said:
    I agree also..
    I do use it..but only with people I know..then I know that they will not take offence to it...
    Like when someone goes on and on..yadda,yadda..about how you Just did not do something correct..the littlest thing....the way they wanted it done..then I usualy say..'Oh quit being so anal'..or...'you are so anal'..
    usually this is directed at my brother who is anally..anal-retentive..and a big pain in the a** to boot!!!:D

    tg;)
    I use it about myself a lot, since I can get pretty obsessed with details. But when I use it about someone else, it means anything from minor annoyance to serious irritation.

    I'd like to introduce my bro to yours. :D

    Gaer
     

    sergio11

    Senior Member
    Spanish (lunfardo)
    ameridude said:
    ...if you are familiar with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder...
    That is exactly what I tell the people when I hear the expression: that the correct term for it is "obsessive-compulsive".

    It does not sound very good when someone says he or she is "anal", no matter how informal the conversation is.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I think (but am not sure) that the Freudian view was that mismanaged childhood toilet training was the root of an anal-retentive person's control issues. The overcontrolling parent tried too hard to force the child to use the toilet; the child retained control of his body and defied the parent by withholding his feces as long as possible. This child then grew into an adult with the behavior that you've all described already. The adult may not have anything stuck now, but he has kept that childhood need for control.
     

    sergio11

    Senior Member
    Spanish (lunfardo)
    Kelly B said:
    I think (but am not sure) that the Freudian view was that mismanaged childhood toilet training was the root of an anal-retentive person's control issues. The overcontrolling parent tried too hard to force the child to use the toilet; the child retained control of his body and defied the parent by withholding his feces as long as possible. This child then grew into an adult with the behavior that you've all described already. The adult may not have anything stuck now, but he has kept that childhood need for control.
    As far as I know, that is the right explanation.
     

    mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    I agree with Kelly B. Shame and judgment came when the child could no longer retain what he or she was holding in, and there wasn't a toilet available. Truly anal-retentive people feel that the same shame and judgment will happen to them if whatever they are controlling gets out of their control. Because of this fear, they try and maintain control of everything in their world.

    I see obsessive-compulsive behavior as something else. obsessive-compulsive behavior might start out as anal behavior, but goes further. Anal-retentive people will control those around them so that they maintain control of their own surroundings. An example of the difference:
    Anal retentive: someone who not only thinks that every drop of water from a sink should be dried off of the sink before it is left, they will get angry if someone doesn't dry it, and experience anxiety because someone else (who left a drop on the faucet) has taken control of their world.
    Obsessive-compulsive: someone who must dry the sink, then wash their hands in the sink because they have gotten their hands dirty cleaning the sink, then they must clean up the sink again, then wash their hands again because their hands are dirty because they've been cleaning a sink....

    This obsession truly afflicts some people who will wash their hands until they are bleeding. The obsessive-compulsive person gets stuck in a cycle that is desperately destructive and interferes with leading a normal life.

    Interestingly, the opposite of anal-retentive is anal-expulsive. This was the little kid who decorated his crib and nursery walls with feces--the person who nowadays, in passive-aggression--because he knows that it irritates his anal-retentive wife, will leave clothes strewn all over the house, bake brownies in the kitchen and let the batter dry on the walls and utensils, leave a carburetor taken apart on the dining-room table with grease soaking into the linen table cloth--those kinds of things. It's the woman who passively-aggressively puts more on the credit card than can be afforded, who is chronically late to important functions and who secretly smiles at the chastisement of her mate, and who throws out her husband's favorite knock-around clothes--even when there are others that are in just as bad a shape. People who appear anal-expulsive might just have poor habits, or they may need to be acknowledged as having partially taken control over a situation through the chastisement that comes with their actions.

    These are men/women stereotypes, but either can be reversed as far as actions. Both anal-retentive and anal-expulsive actions occur because of acting out in a need to recognize and gain some control over a situation.
     

    fatbaby

    Senior Member
    China Chinese
    Hi, There,
    Below quote is from a novel I read. I am confused about the adjective phrase " anal retentive" to describe a cute guy:
    ....I should have known Cell Phone Guy was one of them.Especially the way he keeps banging at the keyboard of that blackberry.He 's still at it.How can someone so anal retentive look so good in a pair of jeans?.......
    The girl who was I in above context adored the guy whom she met at the airport.
    'anal retentive' reminds me of a children development stage according to psycho-analyst Floyd.I guess it means something positive of the guy here, But it is a popular way to describe a cute guy you admire?. What are its equivalent words?
    Thanks
     

    cropje_jnr

    Senior Member
    English - Australia
    You appear to be quite familiar with the usual meaning of anal retentive, fatbaby (gosh that sounds rude ;)), but here's the Wikipedia page for what it's worth.

    There is no way calling someone anal retentive could be interpreted as calling them 'cute'. It's not a popular way to describe somebody you admire at all!

    There must be something in the behaviour of this figure that attracts the label 'anal retentive'.
     

    fatbaby

    Senior Member
    China Chinese
    So, what does it mean here? cropie,I feel a longing for the answer after seeing your post.Just give me a brave guess, I don't know what more detailed context I should paste here in order to get around misunderstanding.
    The novel is written by Meg Cabot.
     

    nzfauna

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    She's just saying that although he's anally retentive, he still looks good in jeans. She is asking why someone with a negative trait (anal retentiveness) can have such a postitive trait (looking good in jeans).
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    :):)This thread has already supplied me with a few really good laughs.
    Here's my interpretation, based on the available context. She sees this chap at the airport, tapping away on his blackberry (personal organizer). As she stands admiring his bejeaned parts, he continues tapping, tapping, tapping. Wow, she thinks, he must be really anally retentive to spend so much time organizing his own life on that gadget. Pity, because he's got a really nice a___.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    "Anal retention", in its psychoanalytical sense, is indeed a notion introduced by Freud.

    In modern casual English, anal retentive has come to mean just about anything and everything, with hardly any connection to Freud's original sense.

    In fact, it has become so popular that it's most often shortened to just "anal".

    Is it really negative? Probably.
    Yet one is surprised to realize that this is something the speakers tend to say about themselves, more often than about other people.
    "I'm so anal...." or
    "I'm so anal about...."
    is something that is not unusual.

    As it is, it can mean uptight, over-intellectual, over-attentive to minor details. It may define someone who will think too much rather than act, ...someone who refuses to just "let go"....to use a phrase that retains something of the original definition. (sorry ;))

    Additions or corrections from natives (or others) are welcome.

    EDIT : Woww, Ii seems it took me so much time to write this that I didn't even see Ewie's reply.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I wholly agree with all you say, LV4. Floyd's Fraud's Freud's original meaning has all but vanished from sight thanks to abundant usage, and anal(ly retentive) can mean more or less what you want it to mean, as long as it contains that core idea of (ahem) holding something in that (other folk think) might be better let out.
     

    xebonyx

    Senior Member
    TR/AR/EN
    Yeah, as the site describes, we normally just leave it at "anal".To me, anal retentive is a bit more emphatic, haha. To some, it's a highly derogatory term, so it's not something I would just throw around.
     

    Tabac

    Senior Member
    U. S. - English
    Yeah, as the site describes, we normally just leave it at "anal".To me, anal retentive is a bit more emphatic, haha. To some, it's a highly derogatory term, so it's not something I would just throw around.
    Without including "retentive", it completely ignores the other end of the "analogy" (pun intended), that being the expulsive.

    During the last years of my teaching career, I found that the students simply said, "Oh, you're so anal", not knowing what it really meant in the full sense of the Freudian concept, but rather as a way to say that they didn't like a particular behavior, which is not fair to Freud.
     

    xebonyx

    Senior Member
    TR/AR/EN
    Without including "retentive", it completely ignores the other end of the "analogy" (pun intended), that being the expulsive.

    During the last years of my teaching career, I found that the students simply said, "Oh, you're so anal", not knowing what it really meant in the full sense of the Freudian concept, but rather as a way to say that they didn't like a particular behavior, which is not fair to Freud.
    I completely agree with you, but it's not incorrect. I was just giving him the other way people tend to say it.
    Every term is subject to being slightly modified or shortened for slang purposes. At that point, it's not a matter of if those who crafted it are necessarily aware of its' roots or not; the fact that it's still being used the same way as the original phrase supports its' delivery. Regardless, it still survives the connotation.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Members of WordReference tend to be anal retentive about spelling, grammar and punctuation. We wear that badge with honor.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    Somehow I prefer to think of us as being punctilious or painstakingly careful.

    Note that, in my experience, "anal retentive" is hardly ever used in a complimentary manner; often, it is used to describe excessive behavior, an obsession that can be counterproductive or even destructive.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Somehow I prefer to think of us as being punctilious or painstakingly careful.

    Note that, in my experience, "anal retentive" is hardly ever used in a complimentary manner; often, it is used to describe excessive behavior, an obsession that can be counterproductive or even destructive.
    Of course; my example was merely a feeble attempt at humor. Anal retentive is almost always used to describe self-destructive behavior. On American TV, "Monk" is a fine example of someone with anal retentive behavior.
     
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