Child peaking out under beanie hat, looking shocked

Copywriting tip 16: Hippopotomonstro sesquippedaliophobia

Child peaking out from under beanie hat - trimmed

I try to write in four-letter words.

No, not the rude ones.

Four letters, one syllable. That’s what I aim for.

(And if I could find a shorter word for ‘syllable’, I would.)

Short, easy to understand words.

Not because the reader is an idiot. But because they’re busy, stressed, tired, unfocused.

But how often do you find yourself doing this …?

Sometimes I use big words to make myself sound more photosynthesis

And I blame education.

Remember writing essays? How you had to hit a target number of words?

Then going through the thesaurus to find bigger words to prove how clever we were?

A copywriter’s job is not to show how clever they are. But how clever the reader is for finding the message.

So, once you’ve written what you want to say (see tip 14, verbal diarrhoea). Then deleted as many words as you can (tip 15, chip at the marble), look at the words that are left.

Any word longer than one syllable or four letters? See if you can shorten it.

A few years ago, I wrote an in-depth look at this technique. So I’ll point you towards that article, now.

Oh: and the meaning of that very long word? Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia?

Is it a fear of Hippos pedalling along with a bunch of roses?

Nope: it’s the word for a fear of long words.

Cruel, huh? People are afraid of big words, so let’s have a big word to describe it.

Be kind. Use short words.

Job done.


This tip is based on my 30 Tips in 40 Minutes webinar.

Feel free to download a version of the slides and watch a video of the one-hour webinar.

Image source: Pixabay


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Jon Maxim

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.