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This seems to be a common phenomenon — lots of people report being unable to avert their eyes from a wound or dead body or even the mess after they blow their nose! But is there a single word forit? I found some related words like "rubbernecking" but not quite with the sense that I was looking for.

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"Hathos is the attraction to something you really can’t stand; it’s the compulsion of revulsion." From this source. –  John Lawler Dec 18 '13 at 20:33
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It may be a fine distinction, but hathos is pleasure derived from loathing, not fascination with loathsome things— or at least, things which are not viscerally loathsome to most people. –  choster Dec 18 '13 at 20:49
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That's another interpretation, certainly. But the fact that somebody says that's what it is does not mean that everybody knows, cares, or uses it that way. There is no definitive meaning that is attached to a word; only a history of its use. –  John Lawler Dec 18 '13 at 21:53
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I must agree with @choster here. I have seen and heard ‘hathos’ used quite a lot, and it has always been in the sense of ‘love to hate’. I don't recall ever seeing or hearing it used for something unpleasant that you, unwillingly, cannot avert your eyes from. (I have also seen it used as a term to specifically denote the act of hating The Three Musketeers, but that's a pun of a pun—hardly its basic sense.) –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 19 '13 at 0:53
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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

One might exhibit morbidity, or possess a morbid curiosity, morbid fixation, or morbid fascination with such things:

morbid, adj.: 1. having or expressing a strong interest in sad or unpleasant things, especially disease or death

Note that morbidity means something quite different in medical jargon.

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+1 for morbid fascination. By far the most common term I've heard for this phenomenon. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 19 '13 at 0:55
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Not sure about morbid for "the mess after they blow their nose"! But fascination is definitely right. –  Andrew Leach Dec 19 '13 at 7:53
    
This is the best answer so far, I think. But like Andrew Leacch I wonder what kind of disgust it applies to - I don't think it applies to the nasal example, even though that seems to be an instance of the same "compulsion of disgust" phenomenon. –  Silverfish Dec 19 '13 at 15:29
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Consider train wreck

a chaotic or disastrous situation that holds a peculiar fascination for observers

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I guess this is related to "rubbernecking", although that seems more used for motorists passing a traffic accident. –  Silverfish Dec 19 '13 at 0:20
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compelled: driven or urged forcefully or irresistibly, often against one's will.

For me, once you're a painter, you're constantly compelled to look at the world as a potential subject for painting.

O accursed hunger of gold, to what dost thou not compel human hearts! - Virgil

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