Phobias: fear of long words

We've had an email from one of our regulars saying that she recently came across the word 'hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia', rather ironically the fear of long words.

This seemed like a spoof or a joke to me so I looked into it and the best information I found was on Wikipedia:

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia — fear of long words. Hippopoto- "big" due to its allusion to the Greek-derived word hippopotamus (though this is derived as hippo- "horse" compounded with potam-os "river", so originally meaning "river horse"; according to the Oxford English, "hippopotamine" has been construed as large since 1847, so this coinage is reasonable); -monstr- is from Latin words meaning "monstrous", -o- is a noun-compounding vowel; -sesquipedali- comes from "sesquipedalian" meaning a long word (literally "a foot and a half long" in Latin), -o- is a noun-compounding vowel, and -phobia means "fear". Note: This was mentioned on the first episode of Brainiac Series Five as one of Tickle's Teasers.

Elsewhere, however, the consensus seems to be that the relatively brief 'sesquipedaliophobia' would be sufficient to convey the meaning.

Yet another suggestion I came across for a word meaning 'fear of long words', and my personal favourite, is 'megalogophobia'. Not to be confused with a fear of a certain Philippine language, which of course would be Tagalogophobia...


(We've actually written about phobias on this blog before, most notably hobophobia and pogonophobia.)

3 comments:

jessica howington said...

Ok, I researched this a little more and hippopotomonstrosesquippedalio phobia is not actually used in formal writing for the fear of long words. The actual fear of long words is simply called sesquipedalophobia (a little better). The hippopotomonstrose part is just added for irony and lends nothing extra to the meaning of the smaller word.

jessica howington said...

also, i forgot...


I think that word is just a silly joke. According to reference.com, the Latin root "sesquipedali-" means "long word" (literally "a foot and a half long"), so "sesquipedaliophobia" would be sufficient to convey the meaning.

"Hippopoto-" and "monstro-" don't convey any additional meaningful information; they just make the word excessively and ironically long. "Fear of long words" becomes the ridiculous "fear of long hippopotamus monster words".

In fact, the commonly cited word is a mess as a compound, because "hippopotamus" is composed of the words "hippos" ("horse") and "potamos" ("riverine"); so splitting the root at "hippopot-" makes no sense.


"Sesquipedaliophobia" is already fearfully long but if you wanted to remove some of the silliness from the joke you could change it from a "a foot and a half long" to something like "a league, a mile, a stadion, an arpent, a perch, a pace, a step, a cubit, a foot, a palm, an inch, a digit and a half long". What would that be ... ? Something like "leugamilliaristadiactiperticapassigradicubitipespalmiuncisesquidigitaliophobia" ... I dunno Latin but this is funnier (and longer) than "fearofmonsterhippotamuslongwords".

Anonymous said...

I have this phobia and it is hard because it is hard for me to learn more...
I had a very bad time in primary school because all the kids were mean to me, they said that I'm stupid!:(