What is Hippopotomonstrosequipedaliophobia?

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, also known as Sesquipedalophobia, is the irrational and extreme fear of long words (how unfortunate that this second name is immensely long — sufferers of this condition might also fear the name of their diagnosis!) It is related to Logophobia and Verbophobia (fear of words), and Onomatophobia.

The name is a combination of the Latin words 'sesqui', meaning 'one and a half', and 'pedal', meaning 'foot'. It means 'one and a half feet', an allusion to the length of the word. The added prefixes, meaning 'hippopotamus' and 'monster', further exaggerate the meaning. And the word 'phobia' comes from the Greek word ‘phóbos’ meaning 'fear.'

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Symptoms of Hippopotomonstrosequipedaliophobia

  • Extreme Anxiety, Dread

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dry Mouth
  • Confusion / Inability to Articulate Clearly
  • Lack of Focus
  • Irritability
  • Shaking
  • Feelings of Powerlessness
  • Obsession with the Subject of the Phobia
  • Fear or Feelings of Losing Control
  • Avoidance Behavior
  • Headaches

Learn more about phobia symptoms ›

Causes of Hippopotomonstrosequipedaliophobia

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is a specific (or “isolated”) phobia centered on non-social key factors. Isolated phobias tend to have some previous trauma (often in childhood and often physically injurious) as a root cause; a fear of bees may stem from an injury in childhood, for instance.

Upbringing can also play a role, such as parental warnings about a direct threat (e.g. “snakes can bite and kill you”), which is especially notable in cases where a threat is more imminent. An allergy to bees or peanut butter, for instance, would naturally reinforce a real medical concern.

It is thought that genetics and hereditary factors may play a role in specific phobias, especially those related to a danger of injury. A primal “fight or flight” reflex may be more easily triggered in those with a genetic predisposition, for instance.

By contrast, social phobias (like a fear of body odor or touch) are less understood, are driven by social anxiety, and are broadly labeled as “social anxiety disorder”.

In all kinds of phobias, external experiences and / or reports can further reinforce or develop the fear, such as seeing a family member or friend who is affected. In extreme cases, indirect exposures can be as remote as overhearing a reference in conversation, seeing something in the news, on TV, or in the movies.

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, like most phobias, stems from a subconscious overprotection mechanism, and as with many phobias can also be rooted in an unresolved emotional conflict.

Even the perception of a poor education may be enough to cause a phobia of long words, despite evidence of mental aptitude. Low self-esteem may be a factor, as well as other nervous anxieties, all of which are treatable. The fear or hatred of big words may stunt a person’s ability to express themselves, learn new subjects, advance in their careers, and communicate effectively. They may mock or ridicule others who use long words as a way of deflecting their own shame or guilt.

This fear may be rooted in a lack of education or difficulties reading, such as with dyslexia. A mental health professional or medical doctor will be able to diagnose any associated physical problems. An upbringing where the pursuit of education was either discouraged, mocked, or otherwise unavailable may have contributed to a phobic’s underlying fear and hatred of long words and the people who use them. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia may have been learned by a parent or guardian who lacked a proper education or who glossed over big or difficult words.

Speech impediments may also be associated with Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia. A phobic will avoid public speaking and difficult or complex topics of conversation for fear of mispronouncing words or using them in the wrong context.

Learn more about the causes of phobias ›

Treatments for Hippopotomonstrosequipedaliophobia

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

  • Habit Strategies To Relax
  • Cognitive Therapy (CT)
  • In Vivo Exposure
  • Response Prevention
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Medication
  • Meditation

Learn more about phobia treatments ›

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