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Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is my favourite word in the English language. Not only is it the second longest word, but it also has the words ‘hippopotamus,’ ‘monster’, and ‘sesquipedalian’ curiously bound together in the hope of finding new meaning. But most of all, I love this monstrous tongue-twister because of the irony it is impregnated with.
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of saying long words, which means that if you have this fear, you would never be able to express – at least not with this 35-letter long lexical Goliath that it is. And now I have a confession – I happen to be suffering from this phobia - not only in English, but specially in Russian!
If you have ever attempted to learn the language, you would know exactly what I’m talking about. For the uninitiated reader, let me begin with the Russian word for hello – zdravstvuitye. The very first word you need to learn is about just as sympathetic to beginners as the iceberg was to the Titanic. Staggeringly unfriendly compared to the likes of hola, hallo or bonjour, zdravstvuitye’s length and lumps of hostile consonants make it one of the most unpronounceable words I have ever encountered.
Let’s move on to manners. Spaciba, which means ‘thank you’ is easy enough but the word for ‘please’ – pozhalooista – with its long and deceptive spelling will almost convince you that it’s easier to be uncivil than verbalise this multi-syllabled monstrosity.
What is worse is that Russian words are uncharitable to not only beginners but to tourists as well. Behold the verb for travel – puteshestvovat. I love to travel but during every Russian oral exam when I was asked what I enjoy doing, do you think I was ever able to get that one out? Of course not! So, I had to settle for far less exciting things like reading books and watching TV.
Then there is the word for tourist spots - dostoprimechatelnosti. Now seriously, if that’s what they are called, how are you supposed to find them, even in a phrasebook? What baffles me more than the word itself is the logic behind assigning one of the longest words in a language to something that is meant almost exclusively for tourists.
You can argue that every language has long words but my point is slightly different. The longest word in English is a lung disease that you will hopefully never have. The second longest word discussed here is so rare that I bet most of you have never encountered it before. The trouble with Russian is that long words are also everyday words and if you have decided to learn the language, you have to get over your hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.Besides overcoming this fear, learning Russian involves mastering three types of Is, watching out for Vs that get pronounced as Fs, and getting used to six kinds of declensions across three genders. Learning this language may sound impossible but luckily it isn’t! Stay tuned for the next post that brings tried and tested tips on how best to learn Russian as a foreign language.
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