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Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

Fear of Long Words

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Updated May 20, 2014

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It is possible to develop a phobia of virtually anything, no matter how innocuous it might actually be. The fear of long words is certainly uncommon, but its rarity does not change how devastating it can be for those who suffer from it. The common name for this fear, however, is a bit sarcastic in nature.

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is probably taken from the root word "sesquipedalian," which means "long word." Therefore, sesquipedaliophobia is technically more correct. But somewhere along the line, someone added references to the hippopotamus, a large animal, and monsters to make the word sound even more intimidating. How ironic that the name for the fear of long words is, itself, 35 letters long.

Effects of Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

Like all phobias, the fear of long words varies dramatically in severity and effects from sufferer to sufferer. Some people are only afraid of extremely long, multisyllabic words or those that are quite obscure. Others fear even moderate-length common words.

The effects of this fear on daily life also vary significantly between sufferers. A college professor with a fear of Latin-based words or a gardener who is afraid of lengthy plant names might have serious difficulties at work. Someone whose job and hobbies are less driven by long words may feel no serious effects at all.

In children and teens, the fear of long words can be crippling. Spelling bees, science classes and research projects generally involve the memorization of long words with complicated definitions. Kids with this phobia might experience classroom anxiety and lower test grades. Isolation, depression and social phobias are possible, particularly in students at academically competitive schools. Students who cannot overcome this fear might have difficulty with college applications and ultimately struggle with higher education.

Symptoms of Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

While many phobias lead to such external symptoms as shaking, freezing in place or sweating, the symptoms of the fear of long words may be more subtle. If you have this fear, you might mentally lock up when confronted with particularly long words. You may limit your speaking and writing vocabulary and simply brush off textbooks and scholarly works. Excuses are common, including such phrases as "That author's too pretentious" or "I never did have a head for science."

Children might develop school-related phobias or appear to simply lose interest in school. Rebellious behavior, "forgetting" homework assignments and speaking with an extremely limited vocabulary are possible symptoms.

Since the fear of long words is rare and the symptoms can mirror those of so many other conditions, it is vital to seek advice from a trained mental health professional for any symptoms that begin to impact your life. However, in many people, the symptoms are mild and do not affect the activities of daily living.

Related Phobias

The fear of long words may be related to other fears of reading or writing. Bibliophobia, or the fear of books, could be aggravated or caused by the fear of long words. Mythophobia, or the fear of legends, could in part be caused by the fear of lengthy unfamiliar passages, particularly in older legends. A relatively common related fear is metrophobia, or the fear of poetry. By nature, poetry often contains unfamiliar words and unusual phrasing that can strike fear in those predisposed to discomfort with long words.

Managing the Fear of Long Words

For many people, the fear of long words is mild. If yours does not significantly impact your life, making a conscious effort to expand your vocabulary can help. Look for opportunities to learn new words through reading or everyday conversation. If you come across an unfamiliar word, look it up. In many cases, familiarity can ease the symptoms of anxiety.

If your symptoms are more serious, impacting your daily life, then professional assistance may be needed. A mental health professional can help you work through your fears and provide coping strategies for managing your symptoms during the treatment process.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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