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a sudden strong feeling of fear or worry that makes you unable to think clearly or calmly

to have a sudden strong feeling of fear or worry and be unable to think clearly or calmly or decide what to do

Origin and usage

Unlikely as it may seem, the noun and verb panic are eponyms. They derive ultimately from the name of the Greek god Pan, who as well as being associated with shepherds, their flocks and music (think of pan pipes) was also the god of wild, unfrequented places and thus of the terrors they invoked. The noun panic came into English in the 16th century from Greek and Latin via French, while the verb arrived much later, being first recorded in the early 19th century.


In addition to its standard noun and verb senses, panic forms part of several compounds, including panic attack, panic room, panic stations and panic-stricken. It also occurs in the compound noun panic button, a button that can be pressed to call for help, and the related phrase ‘push or press the panic button’, which means to react to something bad that is happening by panicking, instead of thinking about it calmly and taking appropriate action. In British popular culture the king of panic was the actor Clive Dunn, who played the excitable Lance Corporal Jones in the classic sitcom ‘Dad’s Army’. At moments of excitement it was Corporal Jones’s habit to panic visibly while shouting loudly ‘Don’t Panic’, a phrase that became a catchphrase.


“So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges. Stay in control, and never panic.”
(Martha Stewart)

Panic plays no part in the training of a nurse.”
(Elizabeth Kenny)

Related words

alarm, dread, fear, fright

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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