What Is The Fear of Long Words?

Updated April 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Though it may come as a surprise, people can be afraid of just about anything. We are often scared of the unknown and things that don't have a name. But sometimes, when a phobia is given a name, we realize that we may have had that phobia all along. Only by naming it did we finally understand something like the phobia of long words. For instance, while there doesn't yet seem to be a name for a phobia of vowels, anecdotal evidence suggests the phobia is real, and simply has yet to be professionally identified.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
People Can Be Fearful Of Just About Anything

It feels cruel that the fear of elongated words should be referred to by a name that is a very long word:: "hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia". This long word is used both satirically and seriously. A shorter way of referring to this long word is “sesquipedalophobia." This is another word commonly used to describe a dread of long words.

"Sesqui" is Latin for "one and a half" and "pedal," also Latin, means "foot." Phobia is, of course, the Greek word for “fear". So "sesquipedalophobia" can be literally translated to mean "the fear of one and a half feet," or fear surrounding a very long word. Sesquipedalophobia is in the same family of specific fears as "logophobia" and "verbophobia," as well as "onomatophobia," which is the fear regarding hearing a particular name.

Is The Fear Of Long Words Real?

A comedian by the name of Bryant Oden wrote a song called "The Long Word Song," detailing a panic regarding really lengthy words, or hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. Interestingly, this is not the first time a name has been used ironically to describe a phobia. There is also "dodecaphobia," which refers to a dread surrounding the number twelve and has 12 letters. Aibohphobia, meanwhile, is the phobia regarding palindromes. The word itself is a palindrome.

Those who experience this dread often feel anxious when confronted with long words. Because of the name used to describe this fear, their experience is often treated as a joke. But it is in fact, a very real phobia. The long name may not be purely ironic, though. Some believe that getting someone to say a long word to describe this phobia may help sesquipedalophobics eventually overcome their symptoms and fear regarding words.

Moreover, the label for this phobia may be so long because it encourages the technique of breaking it down into smaller parts just to pronounce it. This process can help people see that they can do this with any of the lengthy words that give them discomfort. The first section in the very lengthy "hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia" is hippo, or "horse" in Greek. Next comes "potam-os," which means river.

Surely, we've all heard about a hippopotamus before. That's not such a lengthy, scary one. "Hippopotamine" is described by the Oxford Dictionary as a saying that refers to something that is very large, which makes sense for both this lengthy saying and the large animal.

Moving on, "monstr," or monster, derives from the Latin term for a "monstrous being," or an entity that is otherwise massive and/or frightening. "Sesquippedalio" is also derived from Latin and means something that "measures a foot and a half long". Lastly, we have “fear" from phobos, which means extreme dread in Greek. Thus, hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, when broken down, describes something that is large and terrifying. When broken up into smaller parts, however, it's suddenly not so large. This process can make seeing long words much less frightening for those experiencing this particular fear.

What's the Cause of Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia?

When we develop a fear, it generally surfaces as a reaction to something that the brain perceived to be dangerous or deadly. If the dread surrounding this phobia is severe enough, the person will experience feelings of anxiety when confronted with lengthy words. 

No one is born with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. It is a learned fear that stems from a traumatic event. Most people who have hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia don’t know when their panic started or what caused it. However, some of us may be more vulnerable to developing a fear if someone in our family experienced extreme anxiety surrounding something. A vulnerability to certain phobias can be an inherited or genetic trait, though the phobias themselves may differ among family.

It is believed that hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia may also tie back to a person's educational background. It can be embarrassing to read things that you can't pronounce—even if they are not actually strange (or long). Perhaps you have this anxiety because you were simply never exposed to a lengthy saying that is actually quite common. Maybe your school did not have lengthy vocabulary words like this in its curriculum, or perhaps your family did not typically use words like this at home. Both reasons for a lack of use can cause severe anxiety and embarrassment—particularly when everyone else seems to know the meaning and pronunciation of a confusing or unfamiliar term, but you don't.

One possible reason for developing this anxiety may trace back to a child being mocked for reading a passage in front of the class and mispronouncing lengthy words, or an adult experiencing the same situation while giving a presentation at work. They may have reacted with sweating, shaking, and a racing heartbeat—all signs linked to anxiety.

Once this reaction and phobia from the length of words have been established, the mind then continues to perpetuate the fear at various points throughout the person's life without any reasonable explanation for doing so.

What Are The Symptoms?

As with anything that scares you, the symptoms surrounding hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia are different for everyone. This is because everyone reacts differently to fears. A person can have a physical, mental, and emotional reaction to a stimulus that causes terror. For instance, a person can react with severe anxiety, experiencing a panic attack from merely seeing or thinking about lengthy words.

In so far as physical symptoms are concerned, a person with a dread regarding lengthy words might shake, cry, develop a headache, experience an accelerated heart rate or shallow breathing, and may become nauseated at the thought. They may develop dry mouth and may have trouble speaking, reading, or writing when experiencing this fear.

The mind can also play tricks on a person. The person will often understand that they are experiencing irrational angst surrounding something, but they are still unable to control or rationalize it. They may feel powerless over the grip that it has on them.

Can The Fear Of Long Words Be Managed?

Perhaps the worst thing about a fear surrounding lengthy words is the hopelessness you may feel. This panic is powerful and can root itself into your life. Left untreated, it could have far-reaching impacts, even making you terrified to leave your own home. 

The first things that may come to mind for a phobia surrounding lengthy words are therapy and medication. However, medications should be treated as a last resort to heal fears because they are only useful in suppressing the symptoms that come with the condition. Often, it is far more efficient to tackle the phobia at its source. Once you confront the source of your phobia, you are better equipped to put the fear behind you once and for all. 

Therapy is often recommended as the first step in treating a phobia regarding lengthy words. A typical treatment plan may include the following process: First, the person will be exposed to the word. Then, they can progress to thinking about the fear, and then finally to speaking it aloud. Exposure therapy is one of the most effective methods for treating phobias. Exposing a person gradually to longer and longer words can lessen the person's panic over time until they are more comfortable with lengthy terms.


Having a phobia like the fear of long words can make it difficult to seek the professional help you need. For example, you may be embarrassed about the unique fear that you have. Or you may be scared to venture out in public where you might be at risk for confronting the source of your phobia. Either way, online counseling may be a better option for you. In an internet-based setting, you might feel more comfortable talking about your fears, and you won’t need to leave the house for your therapy sessions. 

If this fear is having a negative impact on your life, you may consider seeking help from an online counselor. What’s more, psychologists increasingly see online counseling as an effective medium that can produce the same results as in-person treatment for a variety of mental health conditions. This includes phobias. 

It may sound unusual, but phobias come in all varieties. They may seem to come out of nowhere, or they might arise from a specific event. If you are having difficulty coping with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia or any other phobia, reach out to one of our counselors at BetterHelp. Here, you will find professionals who are specifically trained to handle fears and can assist you in creating a treatment plan. Fears may seem hopeless, but they can be overcome.

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