Taunton School Main Building at Dusk

A fear of long words or hippos?

Posted: 26th January 2018

Flicking through a book in search of inspiration the other day, I came across a completely new word, which caught my eye as it is possibly one of the longest words in English. Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

The chance discovery of this word helped me to decide on what to write about here; quite obviously, Hippos.

Does this long phobia word mean that we should be afraid of hippos then? After all, the Hippo has killed more people in Africa than any other animal. I found a particularly gruesome, although possibly apocryphal, tale to illustrate this point.

An Austrian circus dwarf died when he bounced sideways from a trampoline and was swallowed by a hippopotamus. Seven thousand people watched as little Franz Dasch popped into the mouth of Hilda the Hippo and the animal’s gag reflex forced it to swallow. The crowd applauded wildly before other circus people realized what has happened.

Actually, the ironic definition of this new word is apparently “fear of long words”.

When I was very small my mum gave me a poetry book, which contained a poem by Patrick Barrington. I always enjoyed this poem, so I am using this as an excuse to share it with you now.

I had a hippopotamus; I kept him in a shed
And fed him upon vitamins and vegetable bread.
I made him my companion on many cheery walks,
And had his portrait done by a celebrity in chalks.

His charming eccentricities were known on every side.
The creature’s popularity was wonderfully wide.
He frolicked with the Rector in a dozen friendly tussles,
Who could not but remark on his hippopotamuscles.

If he should be affected by depression or the dumps
By hippopotameasles or hippopotamumps
I never knew a particle of peace ’till it was plain
He was hippopotamasticating properly again.

I had a hippopotamus, I loved him as a friend
But beautiful relationships are bound to end.
Time takes, alas! our joys from us and robs us of our blisses.
My hippopotamus turned out to be a hippopotamissus.

My housekeeper regarded him with jaundice in her eye.
She did not want a colony of hippopotami.
She borrowed a machine gun from her soldier-nephew, Percy
And showed my hippopotamus no hippopotamercy.

My house now lacks the glamour that the charming creature gave.
The garage where I kept him is as silent as a grave.
No longer he displays among the motor-tires and spanners
His hippopotamastery of hippopotamanners.

No longer now he gambols in the orchard in the Spring;
No longer do I lead him through the village on a string;
No longer in the mornings does the neighborhood rejoice
To his hippopotamusically-modulated voice.

I had a hippopotamus, but nothing upon the earth
Is constant in its happiness or lasting in its mirth.
No life that’s joyful can be strong enough to smother
My sorrow for what might have been a hippopotamother.

So it would appear that the hippo may not be quite all bad. In fact, reading Barrington’s poem reveals them to be rather cute.

So you won’t be surprised to find that one of the best hippos that ever lived was in fact a saint. This saint was called St Augustine of Hippo. By coincidence Augustine of Hippo was also a teacher. He started out teaching language in Carthage. He was a good teacher, helping students see the elegance of the subject they are studying, thereby igniting passion in their hearts.

However, he obviously ignited more than passion in his students, because his pupils’ bad behaviour caused him to leave, moving to Rome and from there to Milan. While in Milan he converted to Christianity and took vows as a priest. Returning home to North Africa he sold his possessions and converted his house to a monastery. He became bishop of Hippo soon after, remaining in this position until his death on August 28, 430, during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals.

Hippo was a great traveller. He referred to the joy that this brought him when he said ‘The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page’.

It is also ironic that he found his pupils’ behaviour so difficult to cope with, since he had himself been quite naughty at school, where he spent his time living a hedonistic lifestyle, associating with ne’er-do-wells and generating vivid stories about his experiences with a variety of girlfriends.

Later on he drew in this colourful background in his work as a priest, for which he gave up his wife and family (and his mistress). He saw this behaviour as a virtue, and consequently he is mostly remembered for another of his quotes, which seems to me to be a good way to draw this hippopotamime discourse to an end. Hippo wrote:

We make a ladder of our vices, if we trample those same vices underfoot.

This can be further backed by the words of George Washington (who is relevant here because his false teeth were carved from a hippo tusk). He said;

Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. It is better be alone than in bad company.

So the essential message of this short missive is:

Try many things and range widely in your experiences. Enjoy the beauty of the world, but keep good company and learn from your mistakes.

James Penny, Head of Science TS

Categories: Blog Senior