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How Do I Overcome a Fear of Long Words?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words. It is an extension of the term sesquipedaliophobia, which is more simply described as a fear of words in general. As ironic as it is to have a phobia name that sufferers may be afraid to try and pronounce, hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is nevertheless a real fear that may require professional help to overcome.

Phobias begin in different ways for different people. A person who has a fear of long words may have developed this syndrome over many years, with repeated incidents of being shamed or embarrassed for not being able to say or write long words. This phobia is often associated with shame or lack of self-confidence, and may grow out of a deep belief that a person is not smart enough to say, use, or understand long words. In order to overcome a fear of long words, a person must try to confront the origins of the phobia and understand why he or she is afraid.

A fear of long words can manifest in very real symptoms of anxiety. People with this phobia may experience increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, dizziness, or nausea when confronted with a long word to pronounce or read. As the fear is overcome, these symptoms will likely dissipate in the wake of good phobia management strategies.

One way to try and overcome a fear of long words is by trying to remember and analyze the origins of the phobia. Maybe the person was an older sibling made to feel stupid or inferior when a younger sibling could pronounce big words. Even witnessing an event where another person was shamed or insulted for having a fear of long words could set off the beginning of a phobia. If this event can be identified, then ask what emotions it brought up at the time, such as shame, guilt, embarrassment.

Once the origin is understood, it is important to try and dispel the myth that a person is incapable of handling long words. Some people say reminders or mantras every time the fear of long words manifests, such as “I do not need to feel embarrassed, because it is okay to ask how this word is pronounced. Only a moron would criticize this.”

One strategy for handling words that cause phobia symptoms is to not look at the whole word. Try covering up most of the word and pronouncing it phonetically. By taking a word in small chunks instead of one long sweep, it can reduce the anxiety that accompanies a fear of long words.

It may also be a good idea to try and make words a friend instead of a suspicious adversary. There are many entertaining and fascinating books on the history of words: how they came to be, who made them up, and how they have changed over the years. A key to overcoming any type of fear of the unknown is to try and understand it; even if a phobic person doesn't understand many large words to begin with, this can be conquered through focused study about words. What a person doesn't know today, he or she can always start to learn by tomorrow.

What Is the Fear of Long Words?

When something like reading long words is scary and overwhelming, a person may do anything to get around it. While this phobia can occur for several reasons, it all leads to avoiding reading because there could be long words. This fear negatively impacts a person's education and reduces the number of career choices available to them.

Lifelong Impacts

Medical professionals don’t consider the fear of long words a medical condition, but it is a social one. There isn’t specific treatment available for people who suffer from this condition. For many, it starts in the formative school years and may impact them for the rest of their lives. When reading is frightening from the start, students may avoid the activity altogether. As they progress through school, they may fall further behind when compared to their peers, avoiding reading even more. Students may get poor grades and feel left out at school.

People who avoid reading long words may not pursue careers in the medical or science fields, and they may also stay away from teaching or writing jobs, even if they enjoy such things. People who have this phobia may have fewer opportunities to follow the career path of their choice. This can lead to an overall dissatisfaction with their life, which may cause depression.

While there isn’t any medical treatment for this specific condition, social phobias are common, and coping strategies may be beneficial. Following the advice of a trained psychologist may help sufferers feel less afraid of reading long words leading to better career opportunities and improved satisfaction with life.

Successfully Reading and Writing Long Words

The written language is everywhere in the world, and it can be challenging to avoid all situations that require reading long words. While breaking the word down into small pieces may make it easier to read, there are additional ways to make it easier.

  • Use Modern Technology – Smartphones, computers and tablets make a big difference in people with any type of reading difficulty, including this phobia. Some apps take written words and turn them into audio files, while other types of software are talk-to-text based, creating written documents from a person’s voice. These apps make reading and writing easy for all users.
  • Use Shortened Words – Without access to technology, another way to make writing more manageable is to replace long words with shorter versions. For example, consider writing “fridge” or “icebox” instead of writing the longer word refrigerator.

What Is the Fear of Long Words Pronunciation?

One way to learn how to pronounce this word is to break it down into its base words. When this is done, it looks like this:


While that format may help some people say the word, it is still a lot of large words to decode. Another way to break this word down is separating it into phonetic chunks, or syllables, similar to how children are taught to sound out words. The term now looks like this:


What Is the Fear of Long Words Called and What Is the Meaning?

There is no official conclusion as to who created this word or when. However, by looking at the different segments, a person can better understand the term.

The root word is sesquipedalian, which means a foot and a half. Sesqui is a Latin prefix used to represent one and a half, while pedalian refers to feet. This word later became translated into “having many syllables.” It was first used by the ancient Roman poet, Horace, to warn his students against using words that are too long.

The word concludes with the phrase “phobia,” which is usually placed at the end of a term to mean a “fear of” whatever is in front of that suffix. Therefore, sesquipedaliophobia translates to fear of many syllables or long words. In most modern writing, this term is an acceptable shortened form of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.

The remaining segments of the word have most likely been added to lengthen the phrase as a joke and play on words.

  • The prefix “monstro” is shortened from the word “monstrom,” which means “a monstrosity in size,” according to the Oxford dictionary.
  • The remaining prefix, “hippopo,” is thought to be a shortened version of the word hippopotamus. This doesn't add any significant meaning to the word except to add more letters.

These prefixes extend the length of this word, making it the longest non-technical word in the English language. Some writers even add an extra “p” in hippoppo to ensure the word remains the longest.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for The Health Board. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Feb 17, 2014

I wonder how long a word has to be before it tends to trigger the phobia. I've never heard of this particular phobia before, and true to my English major background, the first thing I did was sound it out to pronounce it.

I've known people who used long words inappropriately in an attempt to sound more educated than they were, and I've known people who actively looked down on people for using a big word when they thought a shorter one would suffice. These people generally are insecure about their own education and vocabulary.

Still, it's a strange disorder and one I'm sure is not commonly seen in the population.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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