Sesquipedalia22 March 2002 (Updated 22 March 2002)
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Surely this is the longest word in the English language, right? Wrong. So you say that it must be
antidisestablishmentarianism? Wrong again. It is (warm up your tongue):
Phew! What a mouthful! That was 1,913 letters long! It’s the chemical name for tryptophan synthetase A protein, as it appears in Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words.
Many attempts have been made to create the longest word in the English language. Some actually follow the grammatical and word formation rules of English (like anti…) while others just don’t (like super…). Anti… is actually a real word in real use, meaning one who opposes the disestablishment of the Church of England. Super… was popularized by the Walt Disney movie Mary Poppins, but has been found earlier, perhaps in the 1940’s. The word
floccinaucinihilipilification was a joke word in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It stemmed from an Eton Grammar School Latin drill. These three words are the most often to be quoted as the longest in the English language, although, as you can see above, this is not the case any longer.
If you, however, are looking for a practical word that you can pronounce, but is actually a long word, try
pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis. This is the longest word (44 letters) listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.. But wait. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a hoax. It was coined by the 103rd Session of the National Puzzler’s League at the Hotel New Yorker. Apparently, it is a factitious word supposedly referring to a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine silica dust. Coincidentally, it is often found in miners, according to the Scary Archive.
So you want a real word? Well, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) fits the bill. It is longer than anti… and flocci…, and is a more serious word than super…. Plus, it’s very helpful to have a sesquipedalian word that is known more commonly by its TLA than by its full form. It is the longest word in the Macquarie Dictionary.
Tired yet? Yes? That’s understandable. If Shakespeare’s famous 26-letter word honorificabilitudintatibus (Love's Labour's Lost, Ⅴ.ⅰ.) got beat 73 times over as the longest word, you know that this had better be left to the experts. With that, impress your friends, and recite these ultimate tongue twisters to your teachers. Good luck!
News & Addenda
22 March 2002
I had nowhere appropriate in the article to mention this, but the Guinness Book of World Records claims that the longest village sign in the world reads Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwilllantysiliogogogoch, which is Welsh for
The Church of Mary in the Hollow of the White Hazel near the Fierce Whirlpool and the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave.
In addition, I found out that super… means
the best, the greatest of all, according to the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins.
Here’s a list of sites that would further entice you. (I used a lot of these in my research.)
- Defunct Scary Items: Longest Words
- The Biggest Hoax
- A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia
- Speaking of Accents
- Floccinaucinihilipilification — Irony
- What is the longest word in the dictionary?
- Dictionary.com Word of the Day: Sesquipedalian
- Bio-Word Dissections
- Spanish Language: Question of the Week: Longest Word
- Llanfairpwllgwyngyll - Community website for Llanfairpwllgwyngyll in Gwynedd (UK)
- National Puzzler’s League