Hippopotomous words

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia – that should give our typsetters a problem! It means a fear of long words. I think I could have coped with sesquippedalion because I can see that it means a foot and a half, but how the hippo got into it I have no idea. Phobias are many and with splendid names.

How about hierophobia: a fear of priests and sacred things? Awkward for a Catholic, but perhaps St Peter will accept it as an excuse. Not much hope, though, for those with papaphobia, which is fear of popes. Some readers might favour my invented  johnpaultwoophobia, and others francisophobia.  I do not suffer from caligynephobia, which is a fear of beautiful women; I only have caligynephilia – which causes me in company to approach immediately the most beautiful woman I can see. Not my fault: it’s a condition. Many people have kopophobia, that is fear of fatigue. Worrying about being tired the next day keeps them awake at night. And we mustn’t forget phobophobia, which is a fear of having phobias. Or panophobia, which is a fear of everything. There is a real danger of this, given the dire picture presented to us by the morning newspapers. Perhaps we now need brexitophobia.

But we must not treat phobias too lightly. I have a young relative with trypanohobia, or a fear of injections. This can be so serious that it can cause someone threatened with an injection to go into anaphylactic shock. Bad news – given the number of preventive injections the young have available nowadays. And many other phobic conditions can cause both distress and disadvantage.

Most phobias seem to be learned conditions, although some of the classic ones are connected with basic fears such as heights, or spiders (acrophobia and arachnophobia).   It may be that we have tendencies hard wired into the primitive part of the brain, set there by evolution as a protection against dangers in our early environment. And they tend to be self-reinforcing. For example ailurophobia, fear of cats, may have started with a now forgotten bad experience. But every time sufferers avoid a cat they feel a sense of relief, which acts as a little reward ensuring that their phobia continues or even gets worse.

And fortunately there lies a remedy. What has been learned can thankfully be unlearned. Behavioural therapists have had much success in training phobic people, through a process of gradual habituation, to rid themselves of their problem. Everyone with a disabling phobia should at least give this route a try. It can transform a life.

But I think I shall continue to live with my osteoichthyophobia (which does not appear in the standard list so I have had to neologize). It means fear of fish bones. It was a considerable nuisance on the days of Friday abstinence and, throughout my career, I chose to work from home on Fridays. My wife became so skilled at removing fish bones that I felt safe. If she had a trace of suzugosophobia (fear of husbands) she concealed it.

Of course you may see all of this as an example of floccinaucinihilipilification, and perhaps rightly so. Nevertheless obscure words do have their value. When I did a good deal of speaking to professional audiences I always tried to get in at least one word which the audience would feel they should have understood, but didn’t. I felt it gave me an advantage. I picked up the idea from a junior colleague of mine who had to address a senior audience. At an early stage he used such a word, and it was easy to see how the paternalistic audience responded by their increased attention to his message. But I also remember a Washington official using the word “niggardly” in a political address. He was immediately accused of racialism, and no explanation saved him from resignation.

But it’s not only what you say, it may be how you say it. Professor Honey in his Does Accent Matter? (Faber and Faber) reported that several studies demonstrated that ‘received pronunciation’ – that is, the then accent of the orthodox BBC newsreader, and shared by about 3% of the population – carried the highest prestige.  The owner is rated as more intelligent, competent and having higher leadership qualities than those with other accents; among women, the owner is also rated more highly in strength, initiative and femininity. Perhaps the outstanding example was Mrs Thatcher whose imitation of received pronunciation was masterly despite her bourgeois background.  The late Lady Warnock referred to it as “odious, suburban gentility”. Only natural received pronunciation speakers can detect the difference and they, as I have said, only represent a fraction of the population. But Honey wrote in 1989, it may all be different now

 

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald columns, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to Hippopotomous words

  1. galerimo says:

    Good to know your venustraphobia yielded, perhaps to a anuptaphobia that might have kept you single for a longer time than might have been good for you, Quentin.

    Be grateful that you are not affected by syngenesophobia, such a fear of relatives could prevent you even having a care for your young trypanohobic relation.

    I hope if surgery should ever be required no trace of tomophobia will have taken hold to make surgery itself scary.

    Arachibutyrophobia is another one of these fears more likely in the younger generation since I have no recollection of ever having peanut butter as we were growing up let alone being afraid of it sticking to the roof of my mouth.

    Fear of these mishaps themselves could leave us all prone to an attack of dystychophobia. We should consider ourselves blessed not to be afflicted with any trace of a cold hearted gelophobia, and so not in the least afraid to laugh in the face of possible disaster.

    Putting aside any nostrophobic urges that might prevent us coming closer to home, (home being your topic, among others, of the popes), I am clearly free of any ecclesiophobia when I say that not even a fear of purple or porphyrophobia could restrain me from commenting here.

    With the Catholic Church at the present time, our honorificabilitudinitatibus Francis seems to be even more at risk of the sort of antidisestablishmentarianism that once faced the Anglican communion; if not from the state from a more sinister established culture within the ranks of the Church herself.

    The legacy of the now sainted John Paul II, a man without any trace of ballistophobia, grows dimmer day by day.

    A feeling prevails akin to coprostasaphobia, a fear of constipation brought on when considering the apparent log jam with which we find ourselves. Sadly we are all to clearly suffering from an acute bout of philophobia so afraid of loving one another that we appear to be more in the grip of a teratophobia, thinking each other to be monsters.

    Something akin to a moderate aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminoscupreovitriolic warm bath is needed to calm everyone down, so we may begin to exercise some discipline in overcoming our gephyrophobia- let’s start building some bridges rather than being afraid of them.

    Neither our fear of balding or wrinkles will stop the ageing process in any one of us so if we dont start working towards solutions we might just be left only with our peladophobic rhytiphobia.

    And could you repeat the question please?

  2. David Smith says:

    Quentin wrote:

    // But Honey wrote in 1989, it may all be different now //

    Run-on sentence and missing full stop. And the correct English spelling of the common name of Hippopotamus amphibius seems to be “hippopotamus”. At least, my spell checker, Wikipedia, and Chambers think that’s so. But, of course, they represent a bygone world of universal standards, of black-and-white thinking. Your “hippopotomous” may be a small blow for the right of the modern liberated individual to spell anything any way he, she, it, or other likes. Bah, humbug :o)

    • galerimo says:

      A modern liberated individual would surely add the transgender, inter or sex diverse Zie, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey, E , Zim, Sie, Em, Ver, Ter, Em to your list of pronouns, “he,she or it” before reaching what could be considered an insulting, “other”.

      • David Smith says:

        galerimo writes:

        // the transgender, inter or sex diverse Zie, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey, E , Zim, Sie, Em, Ver, Ter, Em //

        Which of those pronouns belong to which of those three categories? I pretty much understand the meaning of “transgender” (but I’m unclear on whether one needs to undergo surgery in order to merit the label or whether it’s sufficient to declare it), but I confess total ignorance about the other two. Would you elucidate? I’m serious – I’d like to learn.

      • galerimo says:

        If you cut and paste into google you should find a helpful chart explaining the appropriate pronoun for each identity.

  3. David Smith says:

    galerimo writes:

    // The legacy of the now sainted John Paul II, a man without any trace of ballistophobia, grows dimmer day by day. //

    Dimmer to some, and brighter to others.

  4. John Nolan says:

    Received Pronunciation (RP) is English without any discernible regional accent. If foreigners learn English they need to know how to pronounce the words. There’s no point in their learning Brummie, Scouse or Glaswegian.

    Of course, they may learn English in the USA, in which case they will have a ‘neutral’ American accent.

    RP has changed over the generations. No BBC newsreader now sounds like Alvar Liddell. And a younger generation than I seems incapable of pronouncing the ‘oo’ sound. ‘Food’ comes out as ‘feud’. This is particularly annoying on Radio 3 where you hear references to the ‘second meuvement’ of a work.

    By the way, a phobia is an irrational fear. Too often these days it is misused to imply a simple dislike.

  5. David Smith says:

    John Nolan writes:

    // Of course, they may learn English in the USA, in which case they will have a ‘neutral’ American accent. //

    The accent a learner acquires depends on a number of variables, including the method of instruction, the accent of the teacher, and the ability and willingness of the student to acquire the sounds and intonations presented. I’m not sure how to define a neutral American accent. Some of the models I’ve heard in recordings made to be used in language instruction are not what I think of as desirable, since they are, to my ear, somewhat sloppy. Perhaps that seems admirably egalitarian to the publishers, but it does the learners no favors.

    // Food’ comes out as ‘feud’. //

    Ouch. I assume you mean approximately the /y/ sound in French “lutter”. My guess is that it’s a misguided attempt to imitate Received English. Pity. The absence of standards makes a mess.

  6. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // But I also remember a Washington official using the word “niggardly” in a political address. He was immediately accused of racialism, and no explanation saved him from resignation. //

    That suggests a cross between a culture-wide illiteracy and a post-modern intolerance for even an inadvertent crossing of the moving boundaries erected and policed by the powerful bluenose establishment.

    Anent which: https://amzn.to/2JhpBmp

  7. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // But we must not treat phobias too lightly. I have a young relative with trypanohobia, or a fear of injections. This can be so serious that it can cause someone threatened with an injection to go into anaphylactic shock. //

    A specific fear, so far as I know, isn’t genetically determined, but, rather, acquired. I suppose some people may be born more likely than others to develop phobias, but surely that’s not something that even our increasingly fearful culture need bend over backwards to accommodate. Simply living is dangerous. At least a little courage is required.

  8. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // Most phobias seem to be learned conditions, although some of the classic ones are connected with basic fears such as heights, or spiders (acrophobia and arachnophobia). It may be that we have tendencies hard wired into the primitive part of the brain, set there by evolution as a protection against dangers in our early environment. //

    Here I think we have a language problem. A fear of heights does not belong in the same category as a fear of spiders. The first seems to be both physical and innate, having to do with one’s sense of balance, a warning from the body that an indisputable physical danger impends. It’s akin to the avoidance reaction that makes us jerk our hand away when it’s inadvertently been placed in a stream of scalding water. A fear of spiders, on the other hand, is no more likely to be innate than is a fear of cats or dogs or pencil erasers. Yet we use the same suffix, “phobia”, for both. I’d say it’s a careless use of language. Careless, or perhaps subconsciously deliberate and advantage seeking. The modern culture is given to greatly exaggerating the severity of some common discomforts by insisting that they are true medical conditions and that their victims deserve great compassion, even legal deference and financial compensation. Apples and oranges.

  9. Iona says:

    As John Nolan says, a phobia is an irrational fear. While a fear of heights in certain circumstances may be perfectly rational (e.g. when crossing a narrow bridge over a great drop with no protective wall or railings) it becomes irrational when crossing the Clifton Suspension bridge with a secure barrier between oneself and the void. A fear of spiders, in the UK where we have no dangerously venemous arachnids, is irrational. In some oarts of the world it may be rational, though I have heard that (curiously) it is only people with european ancestry who suffer from arachnophobia.

    “Homophobia” ought to mean an irrational fear of sameness. Instead, it is currently used to mean a dislike of homosexuals.

  10. Martha says:

    Or even any expressed concern about aspects of the gay lobby? I wonder why the suffix phobic is used, a person who dislikes other races, or even questions how well different cultures can mix, is called a racist rather than a racephobic.

    • David Smith says:

      It seems to be little more than an attempt to brand as mentally sick and morally depraved someone or the members of some group of whom one or one’s own group disapproves. And in this it’s abetted by the mainstream media.

      It’s a pity that the news organizations best equipped by funding and staff to do the community the service of informing them of what’s happening around the world have, instead, chosen to do them the disservice of feeding them only strongly biased information. But there we are. Perhaps the only remedies are to take the time to read several news sources with different biases or just to write off the news media as a whole. I find I’m usually inclined to do the latter.

    • Alan says:

      “I wonder why the suffix phobic is used …”

      One explanation I found online, but have not verified, is that the word was originally meant to describe a fear held by heterosexual men that they may be homosexual or perceived as such. This meaning expanded through common use.

  11. Iona says:

    There’s a whole website devoted to that problem. If you google Catholics Unplug your Televisions, you’ll probably find it.

  12. Iona says:

    Xenophobic – dislike of foreigners.

  13. John Nolan says:

    Another one is ‘Islamophobia’ . The inhabitants of Vienna, besieged by the Ottoman Turks in 1529 and again in 1683, were presumably irrational in their fear.

    The same applies to Ceylonese Christians in 2019.

  14. Alasdair says:

    What on earth is received pronunciation and from where does one receive it?
    Maybe my recent attendance at an excellent Junior High School show in Texas provides the answer. Some of the key players were required to have “British Accents”. They had been coached on how to mispronounce words in order to sound British! One example was “water” which was to be pronounced “woe-tah”. I must admit that the resulting mangled English did sound passably Home Counties.

  15. David Smith says:

    Alasdair writes:

    // What on earth is received pronunciation and from where does one receive it? //

    Here’s a primer: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Received_Pronunciation

    There’s more to an accent than pronunciation, though. Speed, syllabification, stress, duration, onset and decay, intonation, and so forth are also important. Syntax, spelling, and vocabulary figure in tangentially. One characteristic of RP, I think, is that it is enunciated very clearly and spoken relatively slowly.

  16. John Nolan says:

    The actress Renee Zellweger managed to lose her American accent when playing Bridget Jones and Beatrix Potter. Yet when I heard her interviewed she had relapsed. Very strange.

    Even stranger is the inability of Americans to distinguish certain vowel sounds. Mary, marry and merry are pronounced the same.

    Another peculiarity of ‘Amerenglish’ is that the stress is pushed forward in words such as necessarily and temporarily which should be stressed on the first syllable and not the third, and yet in certain word combinations the stress is unaccountably regressed to the first word: hence PEAnut butter, ROBin Hood, and Happy NEW year.

    Curiouser and curiouser …

    • David Smith says:

      John Nolan writes:

      // Even stranger is the inability of Americans to distinguish certain vowel sounds. Mary, marry and merry are pronounced the same. //

      Not everywhere, not always, and certainly not if we’re careful. Our dictionaries make the distinctions. The vowels in the first syllables of “Mary”, “marry”, and “merry” rhyme with, respectively, “bait”, “bat”, and “bet”. On the other hand, looking back at you from the far side of the western ocean, why did you discard the rhotic /r/?

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhoticity_in_English

      • Martha says:

        Surely, Mary rhymes more with fairy than with bait, though with furry in Liverpool, and very comforting it is to hear it there!

      • David Smith says:

        Martha writes:

        // Surely, Mary rhymes more with fairy than with bait //

        How do you pronounce the first syllables of “Mary” and “bait” differently?

      • Martha says:

        Bait rhymes with hate, skate, late, great, Mary with fairy, dairy, wary, canary, when pronounced in ‘standard’ English. Irish accents can sound like Meery, Liverpool Murry as in furry. I suppose in some American accents it does sound more like Mayry.
        The rhotic r you mentioned is very interesting too, a long article in Wikapaedia.

    • Alan says:

      I was curious about the American version of buoyancy given the way that they pronounce buoy. A little disappointed to find that they aren’t consistent and don’t go for boo-ee-an-cee.

  17. Iona says:

    Am I right in thinking that American English pronounces “missal” and “missile” similarly?
    (I suppose I could treat my missal as a missile by throwing it at one of my fellow-parishioners).

  18. David Smith says:

    Iona writes:

    // Am I right in thinking that American English pronounces “missal” and “missile” similarly? //

    I’m afraid so :o)

    Here’s a bit of an explanation: https://bit.ly/2VSL4ZB

  19. Alasdair says:

    It’s important to distinguish between 1) American English – a complex and highly developed language which is distinct from UK English and quite understandably so, given the richness of the diverse cultural inputs, and 2) The mode of speech that many Americans employ on the streets and in the neighborhoods.
    Regarding “The actress Renee Zellweger managed to lose her American accent when playing Bridget Jones and Beatrix Potter. Yet when I heard her interviewed she had relapsed. Very strange”, Renee Zellweger did not lose her American accent – she skillfully affected a British accent for the purposes of the role. Off-set, she did not “relapse” but continued to speak her native language. I’m not quite sure what seems strange about that.

    • Alasdair says:

      Furthermore Renee Zellweger is of Swiss and Norwegian extraction with no known British ancestors, so with no reason to consider UK English as part of her heritage.
      She was brought up in Katy Texas, where my daughter now lives. Katy is among the highest attaining educational districts, at elementary and secondary school level, in the world.

  20. John Nolan says:

    I seem to have started a few hares here. Good. Scousers are a law unto themselves. Fairy is pronounced furry, and furry is pronounced fairy.
    I remember years ago listening to an American academic and not understanding why he used the word ‘feudal’ in what was obviously a wrong context. Eventually it emerged that he meant ‘futile’.
    Had he used RP there would have been no confusion.
    Another characteristic of Amerenglish the virtual extinction of the adverb. ‘He did good’ isn’t the same as ‘he did well’. The former assumes a philanthropic bent. I put that down to the influence of German immigrants where the only distinction between adjective and adverb is that the former is inflected.
    Anyone learning English as a foreign language will quickly learn that lie/lay/lain is intransitive and lay/laid/laid is transitive. Even educated Americans appear to be oblivious of this distinction.
    ‘Protest’ used transitively means to attest or proclaim. If you object to something you protest against it. Americans seem intent on abolishing prepositions.
    Sadly, the mangling of the English language seems to have crossed the pond.

    • Alasdair says:

      John, you’re failing to make the distinction I described a couple of posts ago. American teachers teach the use of “well” where appropriate rather than “good”.
      I was recently in a group including American football (soccer) enthusiasts who were having a laugh trying to imitate the speech of the British football pundits/managers/players/fans they had seen on ESPN TV. “The lads done good”, “They wuz robbed”, “The gaffer wuz gah-aid (gutted)” etc etc.

  21. David Smith says:

    John, I’m afraid that the rapid deterioration of the English language is unstoppable, at least as long as the belief prevails that usage standards are reprehensible and must be outlawed. The cult of the individual that blossomed a half century ago continues to dominate in the media.

    We live in an age in which two contradictory beliefs coexist and control the culture. The first is that no idea is valid that cannot be proved materially or mathematically. The second is that the only truths that are valid are those that arise directly from the emotions of victims of the majority establishment. As a result, we live in a culture of only weakly contained anarchy.

    I’d like to think that this time of rootlessness is only a brief period of transition from one period of stable normalcy to another, but, alas, I see no signs that things are either quieting down or moving toward a healthier state.

    Fortunately, most of us muddle through, sheltered well enough from the storm outside, in our little communities of like-minded folk who value order, restraint, mutual respect, humility, and beauty.

    • Alasdair says:

      David, sorry to be picky, but “normalcy” is a US word. We say “normality”. Also I’m sure you meant to say “quietening down”. “Quieting down” means the forcing of something or someone to be quiet and may also be a US useage.

  22. Ian Cairns says:

    It is nice to read the all these comments which I can agree with (or with which I can agree). I thought I was the only grumpy old man who considered modern language fashions as hideous. I think a few courses in Latin would greatly assisted the younger generations to develop the correct usage in English

  23. John Nolan says:

    Chambers gives ‘quieten’ as an alternative to ‘quiet’ and says both verbs can be transitive or intransitive. ‘The teacher attepted to quieten the class’ sounds more idiomatic.

  24. John Nolan says:

    Lest I should appear too critical of American usage, in some respects their spelling is better than ours. Words like labor, color, favor, rumor are Latin words which are hardly improved by the addition of a ‘u’, and maneuver is preferable to manoeuvre, a French word which has long had an anglicized pronunciation.
    Adding an extra ‘l’ to words like skilful and wilful is more problematic, especially since the Americans don’t double the consonant before a suffix (traveled, leveled, worshiped etc) . Also kerb and curb is a useful distinction, as is tyre and tire.
    In many cases these were optional alternatives. However, in the 19th century lexicographers in the US tended to prefer what their counterparts in England did not, in order to emphasize an orthographical independence.

  25. Alasdair says:

    My position is that Americans can do whatever they please, it’s no skin off my nose (an expression they are not familiar with).
    That said, I used to work with “good ol’boys” (blue collar workers from the southern states). It was very easy to lapse into their mode of speech. It took me years to purge that completely from my everyday speech. I didn’t imitate all of their habits however. Like chewing tobacco then spitting it into a cup with coffee dregs.
    To be clear, most Americans, even most Texans, would never do that!

  26. Alasdair says:

    Following up David Smith’s link (May 8) gives “Received Pronunciation (RP) is an accent of Standard English in the United Kingdom and is defined in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as “the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England”
    So there we have it – RP is no more than another regional accent – thanks for that clarification.
    Regarding clear enunciation and slowness – this can be achieved with all accents.

  27. John Nolan says:

    Except that RP is not another regional accent, despite what the COD might aver. There is no standard accent in southern England, any more than there is a standard accent in the midlands or the north. A man of Kent does not sound like a Cockney. Sussex has a regional accent, as does Hampshire – remember John Arlott and Lord Denning? Where I live in Bucks there is not only a regional accent, there is also a distinctive dialect, although urbanization and mass media mean that few people now use it.

    People who speak RP have consciously adopted it, or learned it from their family or social milieu. Why? Because it’s an indicator of a) education and b) social class. Most people do not spend all their lives in one region, and so using a neutral accent which immediately identifies them as being educated and middle-class makes sense, and indeed might confer an advantage.

    If RP is a regional accent, it has to be connected to a particular region. But it isn’t.

    • Alasdair says:

      Agreed partly. But possession of RP is an extremely unreliable indicator of either social class or education. Otherwise, for example, some of our most distinguished political commentators, Laura Keunsberg, Andrew Marr, Kirsty Wark etc etc would surely be assumed to be lower-class and uneducated.

      • John Nolan says:

        Alasdair

        Wrong way round. A regional accent certainly does not indicate that the speaker is lower-class and uneducated. But I have yet to encounter an RP speaker who was either of these. Apart from anything else, RP also implies the use of standard grammar and syntax.

        Kuenssberg, Marr and Wauk have Scottish accents, not English regional ones. Scottish RP speakers tend to be aristocrats, or politicians like Tony Blair who want to appeal to English voters.

        Lord Curzon (1859-1925) always used the short ‘a’ of his native Derbyshire (although this was probably a conscious affectation). Lord Denning (1899-1999) was proud of his origins and never tried to lose his ‘Hampshire burr’.

        When BBC wireless broadcasts began in the 1920s many feared that regional accents would eventually die out. They need not have worried. Yet BBC newsreaders still use RP, with the exception of Huw Edwards who is Welsh, not English.

  28. Martha says:

    Some people find it very hard to maintain their accent of origin when surrounded by others, or even one person speaking with a strong alternative accent. Others continue speaking in the accent of their upbringing for the rest of their lives without any apparent conscious effort. It is probably connected with a wish or otherwise to blend in with the group, and I wonder if it carries over to wishing to accept values and behaviours.

    • David Smith says:

      Martha writes:

      // It is probably connected with a wish or otherwise to blend in with the group, and I wonder if it carries over to wishing to accept values and behaviours. //

      Oh, I’m sure. People are sheep at heart. We want to be liked and respected and we want to be safe from the consequences of being disliked and thought ill of.

  29. Nektarios says:

    Fascinating discussion in an understandable and peaceful English diction. In the Navy, I was often in parts of the world where I did not understand a word. It was then I realised there are different forms of communication. I used gestures and smiles to communicate, it seemed they were universal.
    I have of course come unstuck, like in Germany where I was slapped in the face by a girl. Obviously got my attempt at German was wrong and meant something rude.
    So when in doubt I say nothing or smile – saves any embarrassment.

    As Denis Thatcher once famously said, ‘ Better keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt.”

  30. John Nolan says:

    Nektarios,
    In the Navy? I find it hard to imagine you as a jolly Jack Tar. It just goes to show that debate and confrontation on the internet can lead us to judge people by what they say, rather than who they are.

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