Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is one of the longest words in the dictionary — and, in an ironic twist, is the name for a fear of long words. Sesquipedalophobia is another term for the phobia.
The American Psychiatric Association doesn’t officially recognize this phobia. Instead, hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is considered a social phobia.
The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines a very specific definition for social phobias. Medical professionals use the DSM-5 to help them make diagnoses.
According to the DSM-5, criteria for social phobias include:
- a fear or anxiety about social situations where a person may be examined, like meeting new people or having a conversation
- the fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the social situation
- the fear or anxiety is persistent and the social situation is excessively avoided
- the fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinical distress
Symptoms may be triggered when a person sees a long word, such as “antidisestablishmentarianism.” This can cause a person with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia to feel fear and anxiety. They may also avoid reading so they don’t have to come across long words that’ll cause them to panic.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the fear of long words can trigger embarrassment or feelings of being mocked when pronouncing or reading long words.
Other symptoms can include:
- dry mouth
- trouble breathing
- avoiding reading because of your fear
- feeling distressed over academics or work involving long words
There are also more general phobia symptoms that you could watch out for, including:
- being aware that your phobia is unreasonable, but feeling powerless to control your fear
- unable to function as you normally would because of your phobia
- feeling nauseated
Not much is known about the causes this phobia. But there are some causes and risk factors that are common across multiple phobias.
- An associated negative event: For example, a person who had a hard time learning words as a child may panic whenever they see a long word. Their difficulty learning words could be a scary, traumatic time.
- Genetics: People who have a family history of certain phobias, anxiety, of other mental health conditions may have a higher chance of developing the same kind of phobia.
- Environment: This phobia may also be triggered by learned behavior, such as hearing about negative experiences about that specific phobia or traumatic experiences related to it.
- Brain function: Changes in your brain activity may also raise your chances of developing a certain phobia.
Generally, individuals with this phobia will never seek out medical help. People with the phobia would presumably take jobs where they weren’t exposed to lengthy words and phrases.
However, if symptoms become unbearable or other symptoms emerge, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms to determine if you have a phobia or anxiety disorder.
They’ll also review your psychiatric, medical, family, and social history. Your doctor will also refer to the DSM-5.
Since mental health and medical associations don’t officially recognize hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia as a phobia, it technically isn’t a diagnosable condition. However, your doctor may be able to offer general information about phobias and recommend treatment.
In general, a phobia can be treated in many different ways. Exposure therapy is the most common and effective form of phobia treatment. This version of psychotherapy helps change your response to the object, situation, or word causing you fear and anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another common form of treatment used to manage or cure a phobia. CBT blends exposure therapy with other therapeutic techniques in order to help you cope with your anxiety. It will also help limit any overwhelming thoughts.
Medications can also be helpful in managing anxiety disorders. However, not much is known about their effectiveness in treating this particular phobia.
Other treatment options include:
- talk therapy with a psychiatrist, counselor, or social worker
- mindfulness strategies such as mindful breathing, listening, and observation to help you cope with anxiety
- attending a support group to connect with other people facing the same or similar phobia
You could also manage your phobia symptoms by making certain lifestyle changes, such as:
- getting enough sleep each night
- eating a healthy and balanced diet
- cutting out substances that can make anxiety worse, like caffeine
- facing fearful and anxiety-inducing situations head-on
When confronted with long words, you may also find it helpful to:
- Substitute words. Avoiding long words may help you cope, but it’s not necessarily possible all the time. If faced with a long word, try substituting it with a similar shorter term. For example, if you need to write “refrigerator,” use “fridge” instead. You could also try and replace a friend’s long name with their initials or nickname, as long as they’re OK with it.
- Break words down. Take your time when reading a long word. Breathe in and break the word down into parts, then into syllables. For example, if you have a word like “semiautobiographical,” read it as sem-i-au-to-bi-o-gra-phi-cal.
- Take advantage of technology. Computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices have autocorrect and dictionaries available to help with spelling. They may also help with phonetic pronunciation in the event that you must learn to pronounce a long word.
Since this phobia isn’t officially recognized, not much is known about it. Research is needed to better understand the fear of long words and what happens when a person is exposed to triggers.
Speak with your doctor or a counselor if you’re experiencing symptoms. They can help you get to the bottom of your fear, understand your symptoms, and come up with a treatment plan. Friends, family, and therapy groups can also help you cope with your phobia.