The term sesquipedalian refers to a long word (literally one that is a "foot and a half" long). In a somewhat similar vein, Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary defines hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian as "pertaining to a very, very long word" -- and that's just what this chapter is about. We'll be taking a look at some incredibly long words from a variety of sources (chemical, medical, literary, and others). First, however, I'd like to address the issue of the longest word in the English language -- and it is truly a hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian delight if ever there were one.
One might think that finding the longest word would be a comparatively easy task: simply look in an unabridged dictionary, find the longest word, and presto -- there you have it. Alas, were it so simple. A lot of long words have been cited that are of suspect legitimacy, and someone searching for the longest word must sort through a lot of chaff.
First, it is possible for an author to create nonsense words and to get them published (examples of such "nonce" words appear later). Are these invariably legitimate English words? I should think not.
Second, it is possible to create run-on words of indefinite length. For example, it would be theoretically possible to stretch out the term "great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (or mother)" 100,000 or more times. But who in his right mind would accept this as a legitimate word? Finally, there are artificial terms that describe complex chemical compounds. Two such words have gained a certain degree of fame: a 1,913- and a 3,641-letter word have at one time or other been cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest English word. However, both share a common shortcoming: they have never been used by chemists nor have they ever appeared in a chemical book or paper. It is true that these words describe real compounds; however, the actual words were deliberately constructed by linguists in search of long words. To my way of thinking, they are thus artificial words and are not deserving of further consideration. Perhaps a similar line of reasoning was behind the decision to delete these words from Guinness.
The above is not meant to imply that terms describing complex chemical compounds are not real words. These agglutinative (glued-together) words have a reasonable claim to legitimacy -- if they are in fact used by chemists. Indeed, the most likely candidate for the longest English word is just such a compound term. It's the 1,185-letter name for "Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Dahlemense Strain," and it has appeared in the American Chemical Society's Chemical Abstracts. It thus may well be the longest real word anyone will ever see, and here it is in its 1,185-letter entirety: In addition to its appearance in Chemical Abstracts, this 1,185-letter behemoth has been printed in a Word Ways article by Ralph G. Beaman. Mr. Beaman suggests that it be memorized and worked into a conversation. Use it three times, he claims, and it is yours. Well?
If the 1,185-letter word above seems a little unwieldly, take heart; here's a more direct approach to finding a "longest" word. The following are respectively the longest words from the two most commonly accepted standard reference English language dictionaries: the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Webster's Third New International Dictionary (W3).
FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION (29 letters):
This means "the action or habit of estimating as worthless." It should be noted that the word is hyphenated in the OED, but it has appeared unhyphenated in numerous other sources. Hyphenated or not, it's still the longest word in the OED.
PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS (45 letters):
This is defined as "a pneumoconiosis caused by the inhalation of very fine silicate or quartz dust and occurring especially in miners," which' is to say that it is a miner's lung disease. It is the longest word in Webster's Third.
The preceding discussion should be sufficient to convince anyone that our language contains some rather lengthy words that have come to us courtesy of the chemical profession. A few more are presented here -- not with the idea that these are words most of us really want to use, but to emphasize the fact that chemistry is one of our richest sources of long words. The following are the five longest chemical terms to be found in Webster's Third International:
TRINITROPHENYLMETHYLNITRAMINE (29 letters):
A type of explosive
ETHYLENEDIAMINETETRAACETATE (27 letters):
A type of acidic salt
HYDROXYDESOXYCORTICOSTERONE (27 letters):
A crystalline steroid hormone
OCTAMETHYLPYROPHOSPHORAMIDE (27 letters):
A type of insecticide
ANHYDROHYDROXYPROGESTERONE (26 letters):
A synthetic crystalline female sex hormone
Another rich source of long words is the medical profession. We have already seen one example of a long medical word (which I won't bother to repeat); now here are half a dozen more:
CYSTOURETEROPYELONEPHRITIS (26 letters):
A combined inflammation of the urinary bladder, ureters, and kidneys.
DYSMORPHOSTEOPALINKLASY (23 letters):
The refracturing of a bone that has healed with a deformity.
ENCEPHALOMYELORADICULONEURITIS (30 letters):
A syndrome of virus origin that is associated with encephalitis.
HEPATICOCHOLANGIOCHOLECYSTENTEROSTOMY (37 letters):
Surgical creation of a connection between the gallbladder and a hepatic duct and between the intestine and the gallbladder.
PNEUMOENCEPHALOGRAPHICALLY (26 letters):
Relating to roentgenography of the brain after the injection of air into the ventricles.
SYNGENESIOTRANSPLANTATION (25 letters):
A graft of tissue between closely related individuals.
As I mentioned earlier, it is not at all unusual for authors to coin new words and to have them published. Sometimes these made-up words become well-known enough to make it into standard reference dictionaries. Others, however, remain as nothing more than linguistic curiosities. The following selection looks at long words of both types, those that have and have not been accepted by the lexicographers; the former are so noted.
AEQUEOSALINOCALCALINOSETACEOALUMINOSOCUPREOVITRIOLIC (52 letters):
Term invented by Dr. Edward Strother (1675-1737) to describe the spa waters at Bristol, England.
BABABADALGHARAGHTAKMINARRONNKONNBRONNTONNERRONNTUONNTHUNNTROVARRHOUNAWNSKAWNTOOHOOHOORDENENTHURNUK (100 letters):
One of ten 100-letter words coined by James Joyce and used in Finnegans Wake (see KLIKKAK...). This one means "a symbolic thunderclap that represents the fall of Adam and Eve." (Another is presented below.)
HONORIFICABILITUDINITATIBUS (27 letters):
The longest word in a Shakespeare play, it can be found in Act V, Scene I, of Love's Labour's Lost. It is a word of Shakespeare's own creation, and it means roughly "with honorableness." This word has made the grade -- it can be found in many dictionaries.
KLIKKAKLAKKAKLASKAKLOPATZKLATSCHABATTACREPPYCROTTYGRADDAGHSAMMIHNOUITHAPPLUDDYAPPLADDYPKONPKOT (100 letters):
Another of Joyce's 100-letter creations from Finnegans Wake. This one represents the sound of crashing glass.
LOPADOTEMACHOSELACHOGALEOKRANIOLEIPSANODRIMHYPOTRIMMATOSILPHIOPARAOMELITOKATAKECHYMENOKICHLEPIKOSSYPHOPHATTOPERISTERALEKTRYONOPTEKEPHALLIOKIGKLOPELEIOLAGOIOSIRAIOBAPHETRAGANOPTERYGON (182 letters):
The above is the 182-letter English transliteration of a 170-letter Greek word that appears in the play "The Ecclesiazusae" by Aristophanes. It translates roughly as "a hash composed of the leftovers from the meals of the last two weeks" (the original Greek names all 17 ingredients of the hash).
OSSEOCARNISANGUINEOVISCKRICARTILAGINONERVOMEDULLARY (51 letters):
Created by English novelist Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) and used in his novel Headlong Hall. It's a description of the structure of the human body.
SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS (34 letters):
This is perhaps the best known of all the literary coinages, and it's starting to make its way into the dictionaries. In case you didn't know, it's from the movie Mary Poppins, and it means "superb."
In discussing the 1,185-letter-long English word, I offered a humorous suggestion to commit it to memory. On the other hand, here is a list of words that contains some you may actually want to -- remember. The words in the following hodgepodge Share two characteristics -- in keeping with this chapter's theme, all are unusually long, and all are found in standard dictionaries. But you can breathe a sigh of relief -- we are through looking at the hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian words. The dozen terms here are merely sesquipedalian in nature (they range from 19 to 34 letters in length).
ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM (28 letters):
The doctrine of opposing the withdrawal of state support from a church. It's often been cited as the longest English word; however, we all know better after reading this chap ter. Variations include the attachment of the prefixes "pseudo" and "ultra" (see below).
ANTITRANSUBSTANTIATIONALIST (27 letters):
Someone who doubts that consecrated bread and wine actually change into the body and blood of Christ.
COMICONOMENCLATURIST (20 letters):
Someone who collects funny names.
DISPROPORTIONABLENESS (21 letters):
Conducive to being disproportioned (mismatched). This word is of note because it's frequently cited as the longest English word in general usage.
GYNOTIKOLOBOMASSOPHILE (22 letters):
Someone who likes to nibble on a woman's earlobe.
OPHTHALMOSPINTHERISM (20 letters):
The sensation of seeing spots before one's eyes.
PHILOSOPHICOPSYCHOLOGICAL (25 letters):
Pertaining to that that is both philosophical and psychological.
PHILOTHEOPAROPTESISM (20 letters):
The practice of "roasting over a slow fire" those who have suffered the church's displeasure.
PSEUDOANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM (34 letters):
False opposition to the withdrawal of state support from a church.
QUINTOQUADAGINTILLION (21 letters):
The number 1 followed by 138 zeros.
ULTRAANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM (33 letters):
Extreme opposition to the withdrawal of state support from a church.
ULTRACREPIDARIANISM (19 letters):
The habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one's knowledge.
This whole chapter has been devoted to a discussion of long words; however, I have yet to mention what may well be a word longer than the 1,185-letter example cited earlier. According to comedian Red Skelton, the longest word is the one that follows this announcement: "And now for a word from our sponsor...." Can anyone top that?
The Insomiac's Dictionary, The Last Word on The Odd Word by Paul Hellweg, 1986, Ivy Books NY, ISBN 0-8041-0414-X, (Pages 112 - 121).