Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia: The Fear of Long Words

What is fear of long words?
If you have not yet closed your browser in a fit of abject terror, you probably don’t suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, the fear of long words. If you think this word is a rather cruel joke at the expense of those who have this phobia, you’re absolutely right. If you have collapsed into a quivering heap, you aren’t reading this anyway, so we’ll continue without fear of reprisals.

Luckily, even though most people don’t like extremely long words, few people have an actual phobia of them. If they did, it would be a little kinder to use the scientifically accepted term. Unfortunately, although it’s a little shorter, it isn’t that much better. Sesquipedalophobia is about half as long and presumably half as frightening to the phobia sufferer.

If you have this fear, which you clearly don’t since you’re still with us, it must be difficult to talk to your therapist about your problem, “I suffer from hippoptomnghurgh…. I mean… Sesquipedaaaaarrrgggh!”

Are there words that are even longer?

Since you’re still reading this, your aversion for long words can’t be all that bad, but after reading about the longest words ever to be coined and used, you may change your mind.

Honorificabilitudinitatibus is the longest word that Shakespeare ever used. It means “the ability to receive honors,” but it’s not only its length that makes it stand out; it also uses alternating consonants and vowels and is the longest word to have this interesting characteristic.

Antidisestablishmentarianism is the longest word in the Oxford Dictionary that wasn’t just invented and that isn’t a technical term. Unless you are concerned about the disestablishment of the Church of England as the official church in England and Wales, it probably isn’t worth learning.

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, a technical term for a medical condition caused by inhaling silica dust, is the longest word to be listed in a formal dictionary. Luckily for those unfortunate enough to have it, learning how to pronounce this eye-watering word won’t be necessary since it has another, much easier name.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a place in Wales that demonstrates the Welsh fondness for combining consonants in seemingly unpronounceable ways, but luckily for its residents, the name has been abbreviated to Llanfair PG. Amazingly, Microsoft’s spell-checker recognizes this word when it is in UK English mode.

As for the very longest word ever, it has 189,819 letters, and I’m not even going to try to write it. It comes from organic chemistry, where the names of compounds are derived from the molecule chains they consist of. This word describes a complex protein and is said to take over three hours to pronounce.

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia and other phobias

If you think a fear of long words is a strange phobia to have, there are some even stranger ones that presumably present a real problem for a few people. Phobias are irrational fears, so we tend to make fun of people who have them. I realize this is rather cruel, but let’s take a short foray into political incorrectness and look at some of the odder ones. If you don’t suffer from them, you may find it amusing.

Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, is actually quite common, especially among children.

Hylophobia is the fear of trees – “wood” you believe it? I blame the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales. Kids shouldn’t read such scary stuff. Admittedly, I read their stories in the directly translated form as a child, and I loved the gruesome bits most of all.

Omphalophobia is the fear of belly buttons. Every few years, cropped tee shirts become the fashion, and that must be hard for the Omphalophobe, but just think what a trip to the beach would do to them.

Nomophobia could be something you will identify with. It’s the fear of being without a mobile phone signal.

Triskadecaphobia describes the fear of the number 13. If I wanted to be nasty, I would list 13 phobias just to terrify a small percentage of my readership, but I’ll be kind.

If a friend has Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

Before you beg them to see a therapist, you can try a little therapy of your own just to see if it drives them even crazier than they already are. If it doesn’t, it may cure them. Give them this article to read aloud, and don’t let them stop until they’ve gone through the whole thing. If they can get past Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch without having a fit, there’s hope. If they can actually pronounce it correctly, I would love to meet them.

    • Exactly! Someone probably thought it would be funny to name it long like that, but if there really is a phobia of long words, it really isn’t all that funny. Sure, you can joke about it if you don’t actually have a fear of long words, but if someone does it’s just cruel.

  • I actually had a friend who suffered from this. You would think that it would be something that would be funny, but it’s actually quite sad. Maybe driving down the road and there’d be a road sign with a really long name of an exit or town and he would just kind of freak out. Whenever I tell people about it, their first reaction is to laugh and make fun of it, but if you ever saw somebody who actually has this fear you’d realize that it’s not a laughing matter.

    • I hope your friend is doing all right now, and I would absolutely love to confront the people who make fun of him when you talk to them. For some cracked reason people think horrible, painful, sad, awful things are so funny….. as long as it doesn’t happen to them.

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