What Is the Fear of Long Words?

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It's 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.

The Root of the Name for the Fear of Long Words

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is probably taken from the root word sesquipedalian, which means "long word." Therefore, sesquipedalophobia is technically more correct.

But somewhere along the line, someone added references to the hippopotamus 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.

This phobia is highly personalized. Some people are afraid of long, multisyllabic words, while others have a fear of obscure words. Some fear even moderate-length common words.

Effects

Like all phobias, the fear of long words can have a very real impact on a person's daily functioning and quality of life. A college professor who is constantly exposed to lengthy words might have serious difficulties at work. Someone whose job doesn't expose them to such words may feel no serious effects at all.

The fear of long words can have a crippling effect on young people. Some experience anxiety in the classroom that can lead to social phobias, isolation, and depression. As they head towards adulthood, they may choose career paths that require less exposure to lengthy words, cutting short a lot of opportunities.

Symptoms

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 phobia, you might mentally lock up when confronted with particularly long words. You may limit your speaking and writing and simply brush off textbooks and scholarly works by saying, "that author is 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's vital to seek advice from a trained mental health professional for any symptoms that begin to impact your life.

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 its 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 your phobia doesn't 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 and are impacting your daily life, 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.

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Article Sources
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  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. American Psychiatric Association: Washington, DC; 2013.