14 February 2013

Cacoethes Scribendi

Latin: Cacoethes Scribendi

Translation: Insatiable desire to write.

Cacoēthes[1] "bad habit", or medically, "malignant disease" is a borrowing of Greek kakóēthes.[2] The phrase is derived from a line in the Satires of Juvenal: Tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoethes, or "the incurable desire (or itch) for writing affects many". See hypergraphia

#1: cacoēthes. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project. 

#2: κακοήθης. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at Perseus Project


Hypergraphia: An overwhelming urge to write. It is not itself a disorder, but can be associated with temporal lobe changes in epilepsy, and hypomania and mania in the context of bipolar disorder.


Several different regions of the brain govern the act of writing. The physical motion of the hand is controlled by the cerebral cortex which comprises part of the outer layer of the brain. The drive to write, on the other hand, is controlled by the limbic system, a ring-shaped cluster of cells deeply buried in the cortex which governs emotion, affiliated instincts and inspiration and is said to regulate the human being's need for communication. Words and ideas are cognized and understood by the temporal lobes behind the ears, and these temporal lobes are connected to the limbic system. Ideas are organized and edited in the frontal lobe of the brain.

Although temporal lobe lesions cause temporal lobe epilepsy, it is also known to run in families. Hypergraphia is understood to be triggered by changes in brainwave activity in the temporal lobe. Hypergraphia has been observed in 8% of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy.[3]

It is also associated with bipolar disorder. Manic and depressive episodes have been reported to intensify hypergraphia symptoms. Additionally schizophrenics and people with frontotemporal dementia can also experience a compulsive drive to write.

Neurologist Alice Weaver Flaherty, in her book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain, describes its relationship to writer's block and to compulsive reading or hyperlexia.

 #3: Schachter, Holmes, Kasteleijn-Nolst Trenité 2008, p. 254.

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