Column: A word for everything, I fear


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Jerry Seinfeld has an old comedy bit about how people fear public speaking more than they fear dying. “So, that means if you’re at a funeral you’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy!” Seinfeld quips at the end of the joke. While this may still be the case, I’d like to discuss different fears associated with words.

Do you have “sesquipedalophobia”? That means you have a fear of long words. It’s either ironic or cruel that the word itself is rather lengthy.

While you won’t find “aibohphobia” in the official book of phobias, it is the fear of palindromes. Again, we find that the phobia itself is the very thing the person is afraid of; after all, aibohphobia is a palindrome. A nut for a jar of tuna.

The fear of foreign languages is known as “xenoglossophobia.” This specifically has to do with learning another language, as opposed to being in a place where a foreign language is being spoken.

Logophobia, or verbophobia, is the fear of words. I can’t imagine being afflicted with this, as I consider myself a word nerd. However, logophobia is a real and serious condition. Learning new words, worrying about spelling words correctly or speaking correctly can cause some speakers to have symptoms similar to a panic attack.

If you suffer from “onomatophobia,” you have a fear of certain words or names. For instance, if you had a near-death experience in Walla Walla, Wash., and you got intensely panicked whenever you heard someone say “Walla Walla,” that’s onomatophobia. Most of the time, onomatophobia occurs because of a past traumatic experience.

I’m developing a fear of not getting the Wordle word of the day in six tries. I’m calling it “wordlefailophobia.” If anyone needs to excel at that game, it’s me. I feel the pressure.

Of course, many lesser-known phobias — regardless of their official medical status — are considered “nonce” words. A nonce word, as you may recall, is a word that is coined, or used, for only one occasion. In theory, you can make up a phobia and call it a phobia. For an extreme introvert, you could claim they had “nounophobia,” the fear of people, places and things.

Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Perhaps he suffered from phobophobia — the fear of fear or phobias.