Why is a psychiatrist called a shrink? The term is a clipping of headshrinker, a US slang term that dates to 1950. It is based on a metaphor that evokes the image of a head-hunter who preserves shrunken heads. The idea is that a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst messes or screws with your head. From Time magazine 27 November 1950:
Anyone who had predicted that he would end up as the rootin’-tootin’ idol of U.S. children would have been led instantly off to a headshrinker.
The clipped form appears some 15-odd years later. From Thomas Pynchon’s 1966 The Crying of Lot:
It was Dr Hilarius, her shrink or psychotherapist.
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton