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Analysis (noun) is the state of being anal. When we say “anal” we are talking about the primarily metaphorical use of the term, i.e., the definition that is short for the equally metaphorical phrase, “anal retentive.” In this sense, which, as we said, is the basis for the word analysis, anal is taken to mean overly orderly and fussy.

There is nothing wrong with being orderly, but, when it comes to orderliness, one can scoot across the line of good sense to totally deranged rather quickly. This explains the use of the word “overly” in the definition given in the previous paragraph.

And then we get to the other side of the “and” in the definition of anal. “Fussy” is rarely considered a resounding compliment. Consequently, saying that someone is anal, is typically intended as at least a gentle, and often a harsh, insult.

A good example of this was given in the classic, 1977 Academy Award-winning Woody Allen film, Annie Hall. Deciding on whether to buy a ticket to a film that started just a few minutes prior, the primary characters Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Dianne Keaton) had the following exchange:

Annie Hall: So you wanna go into the movie or what? 

Alvy Singer: No, I can’t go into a movie that’s already started, because I’m anal. 

Annie Hall: That’s a polite word for what you are.

That’s typically what people mean—a polite term for what they are really thinking about the person—when they say someone is anal, hence, saying that someone is in analysis is usually an insult.

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