What Is Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia?


Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. What a long word right? Well, ironically, this word–one of the longest in the dictionary–means the fear of long words. If you want to learn more about phobias and this specific one, keep reading… However, not advisable if you do have hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

Phobias are overwhelming and debilitating fears. It can be triggered either by objects, animals, situations, feelings, or places.1,2 Phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. However, people suffering from a phobia might not experience any anxiety symptoms until they are in faced with the trigger (e.g. a spider in arachnophobia or a dog in cynophobia). In some cases, simply thinking about the source of the phobia can trigger these symptoms. This is known as anticipatory anxiety.1 

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is a type of phobia in which the feared stimuli are long words. Even though some people have a fear of long words, this phobia is not officially recognised by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Instead, people who fear long words are usually diagnosed with a social phobia or other anxiety disorder due to the way in which hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia affects people’s lives. For instance, this phobia can have an impact on one’s social and occupational function. This is mainly because those suffering from it often tend to avoid reading or writing long words, which can consequently interfere with their grades, careers and friendships.3

Composition of the word hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is, as mentioned, one of the longest words in English dictionaries. It has 36 letters and is formed by the combination of different words:4,5

  • Hippopoto: This component of the word refers to the large mammal, hippopotamus, known for its big size. It was included in order to exaggerate the length of the word
  • Monstro: This, again, refers to something large and frightening
  • Sesquipedalio: This refers to sesquipedalianism which is “the use of long words” in speech or writing6
  • Phobia: a fear

In summary, the components of the word is used to exaggerate the length to fittingly exalt the idea of being afraid of long words.


Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia can have various risk factors. Thus,, it seems that there is not a singular cause for the phobia. Instead, factors associated with the development of this phobia include:1

  • Having experienced a specific incident or trauma related to long words. For example, someone could have been traumatised from having had trouble learning words as a child and/or had been laughed at for misreading something, leading to the development of hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia
  • Being exposed to the phobia early in life from either friends or family members. For example, your mother has hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, you are more likely to develop this fear compared to someone with no family history
  • Genetics can also play a role. Studies have suggested that some individuals are more likely to suffer from anxiety. Due to genetic factors, some people might be more likely to suffer from disorders such as social anxiety
  • Having a learning difficulty such as dyslexia can contribute to the development of hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. This can also correlate to, as described earlier, having experienced a specific incident or trauma. People with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia might have been laughed at or even suffered from bullying as a result of their learning difficulty3


The primary sign of hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is an irrational and overwhelming fear, anxiety, or panic that cannot be managed when the individual encounters, sees, or simply thinks about long words. Consequently, symptoms of this phobia include various anxiety-related manifestations:1,7

  • Feeling dizzy and fainting
  • Experiencing nausea and feeling like throwing up
  • Excessive sweating
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Suffering from heartburn
  • Shortness of breath and trouble breathing
  • Trembling
  • Tight chest


In order to make a diagnosis, it is essential for individuals to exhibit the irrational fear characteristic of phobias and to experience significant clinical distress or impairment associated with long words.2 

Mental health professionals would assess patient risk factors (e.g. genetics or possible trauma) in order to determine why patients might have developed said phobia. To do this, mental health professionals will gather information on one’s medical, mental health, and social background.

Apart from this, professionals will engage in dialogue with patients and ask them questions to gain a deeper understanding of their symptoms. Furthermore, they will explore how their phobia is impacting their life and what activities or situations they are avoiding (e.g. avoiding getting into a career in which reading long words might be needed). Once this all has been taken into account and the professional has suffice information, only then can a decision can be made on whether a patient has or does not have hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.7


Individuals suffering from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, and from phobias in general often refuse to seek professional help even though there are numerous effective treatments available. This refusal plays an important role in the persistence of phobias, which endure for several decades in 10-30% of cases.2 

So, why do people resist getting professional assistance even though there are effective treatments? The main reason that might explain this is that many individuals are not aware of the wide array of available treatments. They might perceive phobias like hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia as untreatable. This lack of awareness significantly limits the number of individuals who decide to seek professional support. Thus, to counter this and improve the percentage of those receiving treatment, it is essential to raise awareness of phobias and available therapies.

Exposure therapy is typically the most recommended and the first-line of treatment for hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. Nevertheless, approximately 25% of phobia patients reject this form of treatment as they, understandably, do not want to confront the feared stimulus.8 Exposure therapy, which is a modality of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), aims to alter the response of the patient to the trigger by systemically and repeatedly exposing the patient to the source of their phobia, at the same time, aiding patients to manage their anxiety symptoms.9,7

Despite exposure therapy being the first-line of treatment for most phobias, pharmacological interventions are also valuable, especially for helping patients control their anxiety symptoms. The main drugs employed for managing hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia include beta-blockers like propranolol, and sedatives like benzodiazepines, which work by blocking the effects of adrenaline (a hormone released by the body during times of danger or stress).7

Coping strategies 

In addition to psychological and pharmacological treatments, incorporating lifestyle adjustments can also be beneficial to address hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. Mental health professionals and doctors can provide guidance and advice on various strategies aimed at alleviating anxiety symptoms that arise with the specific phobia. Some suggestions include:7

Doing regular physical activity and having a balanced and healthy diet

Research has demonstrated that staying active and maintaining a well-rounded diet can be highly effective for managing stress and anxiety. These practices can thus be useful for dealing with phobias.10

Relaxation techniques

Deep breathing, yoga, and mindfulness practices have shown to be effective in reducing the anxiety triggered by phobias like hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

Implementing these lifestyle changes can complement traditional treatments and enhance your ability to manage and mitigate the impact of phobias.


Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is a type of phobia characterised by the unmanageable and irrational fear of long words. The symptoms of hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia include anxiety symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and tight chest. They can be managed similar to how anxiety is managed. Luckily, there are effective treatments for anxiety, which include both psychological and drug-based treatments. 

There are coping strategies that have historically had success in dealing with phobias (e.g. being physically active and having a well-rounded diet). Regardless, it is essential to raise awareness in order to encourage people who are affected to seek professional help.


  1. NHS. Phobias [Internet]. NHS. 2022 [cited 2023 August 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/phobias/overview/
  2. Eaton WW, Bienvenu OJ, Miloyan B. Specific phobias. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2018 Aug 1;5(8):678-86.
  3. PsychCentral. What does it mean to fear long words? [Internet]. PsychCentral. 2023 [cited 2023 August 21]. Available from: https://psychcentral.com/anxiety/hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia
  4. Merriam-Webster. The longest long words list [Internet]. Merriam-Webster dictionary. N.d. [cited 2023 August 21]. Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/wordplay/longest-words-ever#:~:text=The%2021st%20is%20hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia%2C%20which,'ve%20made%20it%20worse.)
  5. Wordnik. Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia [Internet]. Wordnik. N.d. [cited 2023 August 21]. Available from: https://www.wordnik.com/words/hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia
  6. Merriam-Webster. Sesquipedalian definition and meaning [Internet]. Merriam-Webster dictionary. N.d [cited 2023 August 21]. Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sesquipedalian
  7. MayoClinic. Specific phobias [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2023 [cited 2023 August 22]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/specific-phobias/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355162
  8. Wolitzky-Taylor KB, Horowitz JD, Powers MB, Telch MJ. Psychological approaches in the treatment of specific phobias: A meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review. 2008 Jul 1;28(6):1021-37.
  9. Sars D, van Minnen A. On the use of exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders: a survey among cognitive behavioural therapists in the Netherlands. BMC psychology. 2015 Dec;3:1-0.
  10. Jacka FN, Berk M. Depression, diet and exercise. The Medical Journal of Australia. 2013 Oct 29;199(6):S21-3.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Susana Nuevo Bonastre

Bachelor of Pharmacology – BSc, University of Manchester

Susana is a pharmacologist with strong organizational and communication skills and a special interest in medical writing. For her final year at the University of Manchester, she did a project in science communication, for which she developed an e-learning resource to increase awareness of Major Depressive Disorder. Susana is currently finishing a taught Master’s in neuroscience and psychology of mental health at King’s College. Susana has experience as a mentor and as a medical writer at Klarity Health and, even though she is specially interested in mental health and psychopharmacology, she has also written articles related to nutrition and different diseases.

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