Fears and phobias are very real and the human mind is capable of developing them towards virtually anything or any situation. The fear of long words phobia or Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is often considered a jocular or fictional phobia; however, that is not the case and long words phobia is actually very real and does exist.
People suffering from Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia tend to experience a great deal of anxiety when faced with long words. It is indeed ironical that the scientific name given to this phobia is such a long one. Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia can actually be broken down into several parts: Hippo- is ‘horse’ in Greek and potam-os is river. Thus the first part of the word refers to a water horse also otherwise known as Hippopotamus. The Oxford Dictionary uses the word: Hippopotamine to refer to “something very large”. The word “monstr” is the Greek origin of a ‘monstrous being’ or something that is huge or terrifying and sesquippedalio is derived from Greek sesquippedali meaning ‘measuring a foot and a half long’. Phobos stands for morbid fear.
Causes of Fear of Long Words Phobia
Most specific phobias, including the fear of long words phobia, are caused by an event that is recorded by parts of the brain (namely the amygdala and hippocampus) as dangerous or deadly. The body then reacts as if the same event is bound to happen repeatedly. A person with severe Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is literally held a prisoner by his feelings of anxiety and panic he experiences at the thought or sight of long words.
No one is born with this phobia. Most people have simply learned it from an unpleasant episode. In fact; many individuals do not even remember how the fear started.
School going children (or in some cases, working adults) might have experienced being laughed at or having been embarrassed (or found themselves shaking, trembling etc) when reading/pronouncing long words. The mind then continues to create the same response without any basis. For a person suffering from Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, the mind develops negative images, bad movie-like stills at the thought or sight of long words.
Symptoms of Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia
Each individual is different and so are his/her symptoms of Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.
Typically, the symptoms of long words phobia can be characterized as mental, emotional or physical. Many individuals feel extremely anxious or have a full blown panic attack at the sight or thought of long words.
Physical symptoms include shaking, crying, running away, trembling, feeling nauseated, experiencing headaches, rapid or accelerated heartbeat and shallow breathing etc.
The person is likely to feel dread and terror; his mind creates very bad pictures such as embarrassing oneself, passing out etc when faced with long words.
Often the patient understands that his fear is irrational and unsupported; however, he is unable to control himself and is powerless to rationalize.
Treating and overcoming the fear of long words phobia
The good news is that Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia can be overcome. Drugs and medicines must be the last resort as these simply mask the symptoms of anxiety experienced due to the phobia. The solution to overcoming the fear of long words is to mainly recall and evaluate the factors that have led to the phobia in the first place.
Therapists can also help evaluate these factors to come up with a treatment plan. The individual is then encouraged to expose self to long words gradually: beginning with just seeing the word, then progressing to thinking about long words and finally saying them. Such gradual exposure helps lessen the panic until the individual is completely comfortable and can face long words confidently.
Using self help methods like deep breathing, relaxing and meditating etc are also recommended while dealing with this phobia. Talk therapy, cognitive behavior therapy and behavior therapy are some other important and effective therapies for treating Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.