What is Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia?

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.

This is a specific phobia. 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.

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.

If you know someone with hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, do not try to help them “face their fears” by staging an intervention or forcing them to read big words aloud. Despite your heartfelt intentions, your efforts may do more harm than good and could lead to further emotional trauma, anxiety, shame, guilt, anger, and a series of physical symptoms, which could be dangerous. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is a real anxiety disorder and should be treated by a mental health practitioner. Treatment is possible, but only by way of therapy with an experienced professional.

Symptoms of Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

In extreme cases, phobics will avoid reading altogether and may avoid reading anything in public, such as a menu that might feature dishes with long names. Someone with hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia may express their defensiveness through ridicule, mockery, snobbery, anger, or frustration.

A person with hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia will likely avoid social situations where they believe long words may be used, such as restaurants, art galleries, foreign language films, or even groups of friends. A phobic will likely find no joy in reading, or will go out of their way to avoid reading literature with high reading levels. When faced with their fear, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • extreme anxiety, dread
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid breathing
  • heart palpitation
  • excessive sweating
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • confusion / inability to articulate clearly
  • lack of focus
  • irritability
  • diarrhea
  • 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 Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

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.

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 or seeing something on the news or on TV and 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.

Learn more about the causes of phobias

Treatment for Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Habit strategies to relax
  • Cognitive therapy (CT)
  • In vivo exposure
  • Response prevention
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Medication
  • Meditation

A person with hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia will experience all or a combination of these symptoms in varying degrees of severity, and no two people will experience the same symptoms. As with all isolated or specific phobias, treatment through exposure therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy can help. Medication should be used as a last resort, as it won’t treat the underlying problem, merely the symptoms. A mental health professional will likely ask the phobic a series of questions to determine the root of their phobia in order to build the right treatment program.

A therapist may recommend practicing self-help, such as learning phonetic pronunciations from the dictionary, getting tested for dyslexia and myopia, and finding ways to improve their reading level. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is curable and should not be left untreated, otherwise physical symptoms may persist or worsen and could interfere with the phobic’s quality of life. Fortunately, help for hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is possible.

Learn more about phobia treatments

Book Shelf

The list of books below are hand picked by the staff at Massive Phobia. It’s a mixture of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Habit Strategies, Trauma Healing, Mindfulness, Meditation, Buddhist Knowledge and Somatic Study. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.