This super real, not-made-up but humorous word is used to describe a phobia of long words. It is the second longest word in the English alphabet.
So, how did this mouthful of a term come to ironically represent a phobia of long words?
If you recall, the English language borrows roots, prefixes, and suffixes from an assortment of languages with Latin and Greek being the predominant lenders. With that in mind, let’s break down this colossal word and see if we can better understand what it means.
As you can guess, the first prefix--hippopoto—is borrowed from the animal hippopotamus which was the Latin name for “riverhorse” that first came about in the 1560s. In this case, however, because of the modernity of this phobia, the creator uses the name as a humorous prefix, fully embracing the ridiculous nature of the word and implying that the word is as large as the mammal.
Similarly, in an attempt to further stress out individuals suffering from the phobia, the creator adds yet another prefix--monstro—to imply that the continued length of the word is, in fact, monstrous.
And, of course, phobia is a fear.
In an exchange between etymology enthusiasts regarding the word, user Sven Yargs wrote, “I think it’s fair to say that Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is an artificially long word, not a naturally long one—and therefore did not come into existence under the same rules of formation that govern most words in the English language.”
Though the word is real and holds meaning, it is not usually used in seriousness.
Online Etymology Dictionary. “Hippopotamus (n.).” Accessed October 2, 2023. https://www.etymonline.com/word/hippopotamus.
Yargs, Sven, “What is the story behind the word hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia?” March 1, 2026 at 7:23. StackExchange. https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/1997/what-is-the-story-behind-the-word-hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.”
Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “Sesquipedalian.” Accessed October 2, 2023. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sesquipedhttps://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sesquipedalianalian.
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