Sigmund Freud Did Not Like America

Freud is known for the following statement:

“America is a mistake, a gigantic mistake it is true, but none the less a mistake.”

— Sigmund Freud

In his youth, we was reportedly enamored with all things America. He had the Declaration of Independence hung on a wall in his room. He had memorized Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and often recited it. But all that changed when he came to America one time. He never returned after his first visit.

He regarded Americans as poorly educated, uncultured, and backward, and he resented the fact that he had to take on more and more of them as patients in Vienna. He disliked the American system of consumption, and he didn’t respect American wealth and rich people.

He also had trouble with the egalitarianism we practice at America. People of all walks of life called him Sigmund, rather than Herr Dr. Freud or Dr. Freud. Most German speakers have a difficult time in America at first with the apparent familiarity and egalitarian social structure. They like their ranks and class distance as it is built into the language. They have trouble, at first, calling everyone “you” in the familiar form. In the English language, we address each other with you, no matter what the relationship is. We talk the same way to our doctors, our supervisors at work, the president of the country, teachers, relatives, parents, students, playmates, buddies and our dogs. Not so in German, French, Spanish, or Japanese, to name just a few major languages which differentiate the common address based on relationship and status.

Dr. Freud didn’t like the American way.

Is what we commonly call here “the greatest country in the world” really a mistake?

Let’s not ask Freud.

4 thoughts on “Sigmund Freud Did Not Like America

  1. Pit Gerl

    Both are wrong, ye, Sigmund, and thou, Norbert!

    As a Latin and French teacher I am per se interested in language history. When I read Norbert’s commentary on Freud’s attitude to the USA, I remembered learning a long time ago that the English word you is actually a plural: you “are”. But I had forgotten the details. Here is what I found:

    You and ye used to be the plural forms of the second person pronoun.
    You was the accusative form, and ye was the nominative form.

    Because of this, you still conjugates verbs in the plural form even when it is singular; that is, you are is correct even if you is only referring to one person.
    Thee and thou used to be the singular forms.
    Thou was the nominative form, and thee was the accusative form.

    You is the plural.
    Thou is the singular form of you.

    Thou has now disappeared from common use and is used only to address God.
    The process resulting in the use of the singular pronoun to express intimacy and the plural pronoun to mark respect or social distance is termed
    T-V_distinction, after the Latin tu and vos and is found is many languages, especially of the Proto Indo European family tree.

    See for instance, in addition to the Latin form above:

    French: tu => vous
    German: du => ihr (2nd person plural) or sie (3rd person plural)

    Even some languages that seem not to comply exactly (because they don’t seem to use the 2nd-person plural) actually hide a form a compliance.
    Spanish: tu => vos (vos is still used in Argentina instead of tú, and used to be a more formal form of tú)

    Italian used to use voi (2nd person plural).
    Italian now uses “Lei” (3rd feminine person, singular) as a courtesy form. “Voi” (2nd plural) sounds now archaic and, when used, expresses even more social distance than “Lei”. (that is, you’d use it for a king, pretty much nothing less). Why lei, who is the third person singularly feminine?

    The use of Lei (lit.: She) as a form of respect goes back to the XVII-XVIII century, when it was common not to address somebody important directly, but to use abstract forms such as la Signoria Vostra. E.g. “Cosa pensa la Signoria Vostra di quest’opera?” that is: “What does Your Lordship think of this opera?” or “La Signoria Vostra desidera un caffè?” that is: “Would Your Lordship like a coffee?”.
    As you can see from these examples, the sentence is constructed in the third person singular, and because titles like signoria (lordship), maestà (majesty), altezza (highness), etc. are all feminine, this explains the use of the feminine pronoun Lei (she). There are some wonderful examples of the usage of these titles in the comedies written by Carlo Goldoni, the famous Venetian play writer.

    All in all, English has pushed T-V distinction so far that thou is not used anymore in common speak.

    Sorry about all the details. I just found it interesting.
    So, as you can see, you are wrong with the opinion that English is familiar and egalitarian, and Sigmund with his fear that there is a lack of respect and distance. Anyway, historically speaking. But who cares about that in everyday life? I’m reading a book about the children at a primary school in Berlin. You can read sentences from Kindermund such as (This is now only for Norbert and everyone who is capable of German):

    “Ey, du Opfer, wo gehst du? – Isch geh bei Klo, du Bastard!”

    Nice greetings from good old Germany to you and to thee.

    Pit Gerl

    Translated with

    1. Thou hast brought me much pleasure with this analysis. I too find it most interesting, and no, I did never, in all these years, realize that you was actually plural.
      Now, for the deep grammar session:

      Thou hast brought me much pleasure with “your” analysis. Your is wrong in this case, because Thou is singular, and I presume “your” is plural. What is the singular of “your?”

  2. Pit Gerl

    before a noun beginning with a consonant:
    thy goodness and mercy
    before an initial vowel:
    the first rule of warfare: know thine enemy

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