What Is Hippopotomonstro-sesquipedaliophobia?

The Fear of Long Words

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What Is Hippopotomonstro-sesquipedaliophobia?

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words. This 35-letter, 15-syllable word contains the root sesquipedalian, which means "long word." Therefore, it is sometimes called sesquipedalophobia. However, somewhere along the line, references to the hippopotamus and monsters were added, making it sound even more intimidating.

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is highly personalized, meaning that it can vary from person to person. Some people have a phobia of long words that are multisyllabic, for instance, while others have a fear of long words that are obscure. Some even fear common words that are more moderate in length.

Specific phobias such as the fear of long words affect somewhere between 3% and 15% of the population. But their relative rarity does not change how devastating they can be for those who have them.

How Do You Spell the Fear of Long Words?

The spelling for this fear varies, sometimes having one 'p' in the middle (hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia) and other times having two (hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia). Both variations appear to be acceptable for use.

Symptoms of Hippopotomonstro-sesquipedaliophobia

While some phobias lead to external symptoms such as shaking, freezing in place, or sweating, symptoms of the fear of long words may be a bit more subtle.

If you have this phobia, you might mentally lock up when confronted with particularly long words. You may also limit your speaking and writing, brushing off textbooks and scholarly works by saying "that author is too pretentious" or "I never did have a head for science."

Children with hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia might develop school-related phobias or appear to simply lose interest in their academics. Other possible symptoms associated with a specific phobia such as the phobia of long words include:

  • Feeling like you're in imminent danger or need to escape
  • Heart palpitations, sweating, or trembling
  • Shortness of breath or feeling of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal discomfort or nausea
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Feeling like you are "going crazy"
  • Tingling, chills, or a heat flush

Since the fear of long words is rare and its 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 you may be experiencing.

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. As such, they can bring on physical symptoms often experienced by those with anxiety disorders, some of which include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomachaches
  • Sweating
  • Tremors or twitches

If you or a loved one are struggling with a phobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Diagnosis of Hippopotomonstro-sesquipedaliophobia

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but a mental health professional could consider the criteria for a specific phobia when evaluating for a diagnosis of the fear of long words.

This criterion includes having a pronounced fear or anxiety around the phobia which, in this case, is long words. This fear or anxiety also:

  • Often happens immediately upon encountering it
  • Is out of proportion with how dangerous it actually is
  • Causes the person to avoid it
  • Lasts for six months or more

The fear of long words may be related to other fears of reading or writing. For example, bibliophobia (the fear of books) could be aggravated or caused by the fear of long words. Mythophobia (the fear of legends) could also, in part, be caused by the fear of lengthy, unfamiliar passages—particularly in older legends.

Another potentially 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.

Causes of Hippopotomonstro-sesquipedaliophobia

Anxiety disorders are thought to be caused, in part, by environmental factors such as experiencing a traumatic event. In terms of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, a person may have experienced a traumatic event tied to a long word.

Research suggests that genetics may play a role as well. It's not uncommon for patients with a phobic disorder to also have a family history of these types of conditions.

The DSM-5 adds that people with specific tempers, like behavioral inhibition, may be more at risk of developing a specific phobia. However, more research is needed to determine the risk factors for developing a phobia of a specific object, such as a long word.

Impact of Hippopotomonstro-sesquipedaliophobia

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, for instance.

In the classroom, a young person with a fear of long words may experience anxiety that potentially leads to the development of a social phobia or feelings of isolation and depression. As they head toward adulthood, they may even choose a career path that provides less exposure to lengthy words, cutting their list of opportunities short.

Treatment for Hippopotomonstro-sesquipedaliophobia

If you are diagnosed with a phobia, there is treatment available to help manage your symptoms. Treating a specific phobia such as hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia may involve medication, psychotherapy, or both.

Medication

The most commonly prescribed medication for anxiety disorders are antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax (alprazolam), may be prescribed as well.

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are two types of psychotherapy that may be used to help treat the fear of long words. CBT helps identify and change negative thought patterns while exposure therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that involves facing your fears.

Coping With Hippopotomonstro-sesquipedaliophobia

If your phobia of long words is mild and 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.

Additionally, if you come across an unfamiliar word, look it up. Developing a level of familiarity with the word may help ease your symptoms of anxiety.

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

A Word From Verywell

Living with a phobia can be difficult. However, with proper treatment, you can relieve your symptoms and go through your days with much greater ease.

If you are experiencing a profound fear of long words, or any other fear that is disrupting your everyday life—such as impacting your eating, sleeping, work, or school—reach out to a mental health professional for help. They have tools that can help provide relief.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.