Psych Out: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
September 21, 2023

The idiom "psych out" means to make someone lose confidence or feel nervous by using psychological tactics or intimidation. It is often used in competitive situations, such as sports, games, or exams, where one person or team tries to gain an advantage over another by affecting their mental state.

In short:

  • "Psych out" means to make someone lose confidence or feel nervous by using psychological tactics or intimidation.

What Does "Psych Out" Mean?

"Psych out" is to demoralize someone using psychological tactics or intimidation. This meaning is usually used with the preposition "out," as in "psych someone out" or "be psyched out." The person who does the psyching out is trying to gain an advantage over their opponent or rival by making them doubt themselves, feel anxious, or lose focus. This can be done using verbal taunts, gestures, facial expressions, body language, or other subtle or overt signals.

Where Does "Psych Out" Come From?

The idiom "psych out" is derived from the word "psychology," which is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. The word "psychology" comes from the Greek words "psyche," meaning "soul" or "mind," and "logia," meaning "study." It was first used as a psychology tactic in the mid-20th century, especially in the context of sports and games.

Historical Example

"He [Mikhail Tal] has been accused of trying to psych out his opponents by staring at them during play."

—an excerpt from an article in Sports Illustrated magazine, 1959

10 Examples of "Psych Out" in Sentences

Here are some examples of how to use this idiom in different sentences:

  • Real talk: He psyched himself out by overthinking the consequences of failing.
  • Oh, snap. She was psyched out when she saw the huge crowd waiting for her speech.
  • Oh my gosh. She was so psyched out by the horror movie that she couldn't sleep at night.
  • Don't let the exam psych you out. You have buckled down and studied hard. You can do it!
  • Great job! She used her charm and wit to psych out the other contestants in the quiz show.
  • He didn't want to go downtown because he was afraid of being psyched out by the cool kids.
  • No mean feat. He tried to psych out his opponent by staring at him intensely before the game.
  • He tried to psych me out by telling me he had studied more than me, but I didn't let him get to me.
  • No diggity. She is so good at psyching out her opponents that they often give up before the match starts.
  • He tried to psych out the goalkeeper by pretending to shoot in one direction and then changing his mind in a time crunch.

Examples of "Psych Out" in Pop Culture

Here are some examples of its use in pop culture:

  • Psych-Out is a 1968 movie starring Jack Nicholson as a musician who gets involved with a group of hippies and a deaf runaway girl.
  • Psych is a TV show from 2006 to 2014, starring James Roday as a fake psychic detective who uses his observational skills and humor to solve crimes.
  • The Hunger Games is a book series by Suzanne Collins, first published in 2008, in which the main character, Katniss Everdeen, participates in a televised death match with other teenagers. In the first book, she says: "One of the heaviest days of the year because it's the day we honor the dead. And it's also a day when the Capitol reminds us how little we mean to them. How little they care if we live or die. It's their way of sending us a message before they haul us into the arena to fight to the death. They're already trying to psych us out."

Other/Different Ways to Say "Psych Out"

Here are some synonyms for this idiom:

  • Faze
  • Shake
  • Rattle
  • Daunt
  • Put off
  • Fluster
  • Unnerve
  • Unsettle
  • Disconcert
  • Discourage
  • Demoralize
  • Throw off balance

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Psych Out"

Here are some frequently asked questions about this idiom and their answers:

  • What does "psych out" mean?

The idiom "psych out" means to make someone lose confidence or feel nervous by using psychological tactics or intimidation. It is often used in competitive situations.

  • What is the origin of the phrase "psych out"?

The idiom "psych out" is derived from the word "psychology," which is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. The word "psychology" comes from the Greek words "psyche," meaning "soul" or "mind," and "logia," meaning "study."

  • What are some synonyms for "psych out"?

Some synonyms for "psych out" are demoralizing, rattle, unnerve, unsettle, fluster, disconcert, faze, shake, throw off balance, put off, discourage, daunt, analyze, comprehend, fathom, decipher, crack, figure out, read, get inside someone’s head, freak out, go berserk, snap, lose it.

  • What are some antonyms for "psych out"?

Some antonyms for "psych out" are encourage, motivate, inspire, boost, cheer up, confuse, puzzle, baffle, perplex, mystify, calm down.

  • What part of speech is "psych out"?

"Psych out" is a phrasal verb that can be used transitively and intransitively. A phrasal verb is a verb that consists of two or more words and has a different meaning from the individual words.

  • Is "psych out" formal or informal?

"Psych out" is an informal idiom primarily used in casual speech or writing. It is not appropriate for formal or academic contexts.

  • How do you spell "psych out"?

"Psych out" is spelled as two words with no hyphen. However, some variations of the idiom may use a hyphen or an apostrophe, such as "psyched-out," "psyche-out," or "psyched-out."

  • What is the opposite of "psych out"?

The opposite of "psych out" in the sense of making someone lose confidence or feel nervous by using psychological tactics or intimidation is to encourage, motivate, inspire, boost, or cheer someone up. The opposite of "psych out" in understanding someone’s thoughts or motives or losing one’s composure or sanity is to confuse, puzzle, baffle, perplex, mystify, or calm down.

  • Is "psych out" a slang term?

Yes, "psych out" is a slang term used in informal contexts. It is not a standard or formal expression.

  • What are some other idioms related to "psych out"?

Some other idioms related to "psych out" are "to get into someone's head," "to have a mind game," "to play mind games," "to have a mental edge," and "to lose one's marbles."

Final Thoughts About "Psych Out"

The idiom "psych out" is a versatile and expressive way to describe different aspects of human psychology and behavior. It can be used to talk about how people affect each other's mental states in competitive or challenging situations, how people understand or misunderstand each other's thoughts or motives, or how people cope or fail to cope with stress or trauma.

Here are some key points to remember about the idiom:

  • It is an informal idiom mainly used in casual speech or writing.
  • It has many synonyms and antonyms that can express similar or opposite meanings.
  • It means to make someone lose confidence or feel nervous by using psychological tactics.
  • It is derived from the word "psychology," which is the scientific study of the mind and behavior.
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