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Joseph Merrick, c. 1889

A freak (first attested in this sense in 1839, and still sometimes referred to, as the full phrase freak of nature)[1] refers to a person who is physically deformed or transformed due to an extraordinary medical condition or body modification. The term's original neutral connotation became entirely negative during the 20th century; therefore, freak with this specific meaning remains only as a pejorative. Similarly, its usage as jargon by performers in freak shows has dwindled as the popularity of freak shows themselves has dwindled. One famous example of a freak was Joseph Merrick, the "Elephant Man". "Freaks" of this kind can be classified into two groups: natural freaks and made freaks. A natural freak would usually have a genetic abnormality, while a made freak is a person who has an artificial alteration, such as a surgical implant.

"Freak" is also used to describe a genetic mutation in plants and animals.

The term has a variety of much more recent meanings. One is someone with something strikingly unusual about their appearance or behaviour. This usage dates from the "freak scene" of the 1960s and 1970s, most famously championed by Frank Zappa, leader of the rock band the Mothers of Invention.[citation needed] Another recent usage is as an enthusiast, such as a health freak.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Harper, Douglas. "freak". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2020-04-01.
  2. ^ Harper, Douglas. "freak". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2020-04-01.