Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (Fear Of Long Words)

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (fear of long words) is a condition which results in people suffering from extreme anxiety and fear when they are confronted with a long word.

What is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia?

Defined as a fear of long words, hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is a serious and distressing condition. Psychological in nature, hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (fear of long words) can affect every element of a person’s life and may prevent them from acting in a typical way.

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is the somewhat ironically long term for an intense phobia of long words. When people have a phobia of a particular object, notion or situation, it can wreak havoc with their lives. Although people with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia may exhibit an anxiety response when they encounter long words, the fear can be far more pervasive. Often, people with a phobia will fixate on what they’re scared of and they may spend a lot of time thinking about how they can avoid the feared stimulus.

Although a long word does not present any danger, this knowledge does not alleviate that individual’s fear. People with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia are often aware that their fear is irrational but are unable to control or minimize it. In fact, the fact that the fear is irrational is a defining characteristic of a phobia.

Typically, people with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia will:

  • Have a fear of long words which has lasted longer than six months
  • Display a disproportionate amount of fear if they encounter long words
  • Face interference when performing day-to-day activities, due to their fear
  • Try to avoid long words or situations in which long words are likely to be used or present

When people have a phobia of an object or particular item, it’s often referred to as a ‘specific phobia’. In the case of hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, however, many experts believe the condition is a social phobia.

What causes hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia?

People with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia may fear being unable to pronounce or understand long words and this can result in them feeling embarrassed, ashamed or inadequate. In an effort to avoid these unpleasant feelings, their fear is often projected on to long words. By avoiding long words, the individual also avoids the possibility of being mocked or ridiculed if they are unable to understand or pronounce them.

These feelings may stem from:

  • A previous traumatic experience
  • Existing phobias or anxieties
  • Lack of self-confidence

If a person has previously been ridiculed or felt embarrassed due to a long word, this may be the root cause of their hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. In school, children are often encouraged to read aloud and this can result in bullying or mocking if a child gets a word wrong or stutters when reading.

When this happens, the child may feel a significant amount of distress and could develop an aversion to long words.

Alternatively, people who have existing anxieties and phobias may find that they are more prone to hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. If an individual finds it difficult to speak in public, for example, they may find it even more difficult to pronounce long or complicated words. People with other forms of social anxiety can often develop hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia due to the risk of being embarrassed in a public setting.

Even people without diagnosed phobias and anxiety disorders can be prone to hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. People who are shy or lack self-esteem may be more self-conscious and may focus on the negative consequences of trying to use long words. As a result, they may begin to fear being in a setting where they are expected or required to use these type of words.

Often, people with low self-esteem believe they will be ‘caught out’ or ‘found out’ and that their status will be removed. In a professional setting, for example, an individual may worry that they will be unable to understand their colleagues or that they will be unable to converse with clients if long words are used.

What are the symptoms of hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia?

As long words can occur in almost any scenario, it can be difficult for people to avoid them. However, people with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (fear of long words) will engage in avoidance behavior whenever possible.

In order to try and avoid long words, individuals may make excuses not attend work-related meetings, for example. Similarly, children may feign illness in order to avoid reading aloud in class. If the person’s distress is particularly serious, they may appear to become aggressive or even violent if they are placed into a situation in which long words may be used. Although they rarely pose a risk to others, this signifies the level of their fear and their desire to escape the situation.

If someone with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is presented with a long word or is placed into an environment in which long words are being used, they will experience increased anxiety. In many cases, this will lead to an instance of acute anxiety and the person may begin to have a panic attack.

Typically, panic attacks last for a relatively short amount of time but they are extremely unpleasant and distressing. When experiencing a panic attack, sufferers often report unpleasant symptoms, such as:

  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Shaking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feelings of doom
  • Desire to escape
  • Nausea
  • Feelings of doom
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hypervigilance
  • Rapid breathing

Even though the symptoms of a panic attack are extremely distressing, this is actually the brain’s way of trying to protect the individual. By inducing these symptoms, the brain is encouraging the individual to escape the situation and to avoid the stimulus (long words) in the future. As a result, the patient’s fear may be increased and they may continue to avoid long words due to their hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

Can hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia be treated?

Social phobias, such as hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, can often be treated with great success. As well as using various forms of therapy, patients may be treated with anti-anxiety medications in some cases. Although medication cannot be used to remove the fear of long words, it can reduce the patient’s level of anxiety when they are presented with long words, thus diminishing their fear response.

By working with a trained therapist, patients can use hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and/or psychotherapy to overcome their phobia. By increasing the patient’s self-confidence, gradually exposing them to long words and teaching them different response techniques, therapists are often able to reduce the patient’s fear permanently.

Preventing hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (fear of long words)

As hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is often preceded by a period of self-consciousness and social anxiety, it may be possible to prevent the condition from developing. When an individual is experiencing low self-esteem or anxiety in social situations, early intervention and treatment may prevent them from developing additional conditions, such as hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.