Halloween is associated with scores of scary words, from boo to broomstick, ghoul to goblin. Yet if you want to get at what truly frightens us, check some other words – the list of human phobias.

A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of…well, just about anything. Heights, small spaces, spiders, flying – that’s just a start. There are documented fears of chickens, balloons, sleep, numbers, mirrors and dozens more, and words for all of them.

Some phobias concern words themselves. So in honour of Halloween week, here are four language-related phobias.

1. Glossophobia

Fear of public speaking, from the Greek glossa meaning tongue. It can happen when confronting large audiences or small workplace meetings alike. Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that according to studies people’s number one fear is public speaking and number two is death. His punchline? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

2. Xenoglossophobia

Fear of foreign languages. Xenophobia comes from the Greek xenos for stranger, and is a fear/hatred of people from different cultures or countries – the foreign. We add glossophobia to describe a feeling of anxiety around learning, using, listening to, reading or writing in a foreign tongue. At root it can be a lack of confidence in language abilities or worries about misunderstandings. But there can be elements of prejudice too, i.e. connecting linguistic and ethnic/national identities.

3. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

Fear of long words. Follow the odd etymology. The Latin sesqui (one-and-a-half) and pedis (foot) gave as sesquipedalis. A Latin poet first applied that term to other poets who used excessively long words. Sesquipedalian refers to the type of words you might see in, say, a scientific text, or to people who show off by using words so lengthy that nobody understands them. From that, tack on forms of hippopotamus and monster to evoke size and, voila, you have a 35-letter word about fear of long words.

4. Logophobia

Fear of words or language itself, from the Greek logos for word or reason. This one has been defined more broadly to mean a fear of rational thought or critical thinking. Unfortunately, a common ailment – and that’s scary.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

November 1, 2017

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