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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.
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.
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