Longest word in English
There are endless debates over what is the longest word in English, demonstrating that the idea of what constitutes a word is not as straightforward as it seems. Hyphenated or space-delimited compounds and proper nouns are linguistically considered words, but as they can grow with few limits, they are not counted here.
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"Official" longest word
The Guinness Book of Records, in its 1992 and subsequent editions, declared the "longest real word" in the English language to be floccinaucinihilipilification at 29 letters. Defined as the act of estimating as worthless, its usage has been recorded as far back as 1741. In recent times its usage has been recorded in the proceedings of the United States Senate by Senator Jesse Helms, and at the White House by Bill Clinton's press secretary Mike McCurry. It is the longest non-technical word in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Antidisestablishmentarianism (a 19th century movement in England opposed to the separation of church and state) at 28 letters is often popularly accepted as English's longest word, and is probably the best-known "longest word." Other versions such as Antidisestablishmentarianistically and Pseudoantidisestablishmentarianism are demonstrably longer, though, showing that 'popular acceptance' is not a guarantee of accuracy. (See also the "Constructions" section below.)
A coined term
The word pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, also spelled pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis, is defined as "a lung disease caused by the inhalation of very fine silica or quartz dust." At 45 letters, it is certainly the longest word ever to appear in a non-technical dictionary of English, the Oxford English Dictionary. However there are strong indications that the word was coined by puzzler Everett Smith in 1935 as a hypothetical long word that could result from the protraction of medical terms. The actual name of the disease is pneumoconiosis, which is 14 letters long.
Other long words
The longest hypothetically legal Scrabble word (hypothetical because it exceeds 15 letters, the width of a Scrabble board) in North American play is ethylenediaminetetraacetates (28 letters). It is the plural of a word found in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, which was the dictionary of reference in North American Scrabble play for base words of at least 10 letters, and their inflections of at least 10 letters, until June 16, 2003.
The longest word which appears in William Shakespeare's works is the 27-letter honorificabilitudinitatibus, appearing in Love's Labour's Lost. This is arguably an English word (rather than Latin), but only because he used it.
The Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, or reef triggerfish, is Hawaii's official state fish. At 21 (22 counting the 'okina) letters it is one of the best known very long one-word names for an animal. It is often asserted that "the name is longer than the fish," although this certainly depends on the font size used.
James Joyce, known for his distinctive style, made up nine 100 and one 101 letter long words in his novel Finnegans Wake, the most famous of which is Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk. Appearing on the first page, it allegedly is the symbolic thunderclap representing the fall of Adam and Eve. As this word appears nowhere else except in reference to this passage, it is not generally accepted as a "real" word.
The well-known song title from the movie Mary Poppins, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, with 34 letters, does appear in several dictionaries, but only as a proper noun, and defined in reference to the song title. Hence it may well be dismissed as not a "real" word.
In the 1970s, there were advertisements for Lipsmackinthirstquenchinacetastinmotivatingoodbuzzincooltalkinhighwalkinfastlivinevergivincoolfizzin Pepsi, coining a 100-letter term. Later, the 71-letter Twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun was used in a McDonald's Restaurant advertisement.
The longest word in the English language containing only one vowel is strengths.
The longest word in the English language typable with one hand (using conventional hand placement on a QWERTY keyboard) is stewardesses.
English is a language which permits the legitimate extension of existing words to serve new purposes by the addition of prefixes and suffixes. This is sometimes referred to as agglutinative construction. This process can create arbitrarily long words: for example, the prefixes pseudo- (false, spurious) and anti- (against, opposed to) can be added as many times as desired. Multiple observers have played on this in noting that a word like anti-aircraft (pertaining to the defense against aircraft) is easily extended to anti-anti-aircraft (pertaining to counteracting the defense against aircraft, a legitimate concept) and can from thereon be prefixed with an endless stream of "anti-"s, each time creating a new level of counteraction.
The earlier mentioned "antidisestablishmentarianism" is the longest common example of a word formed by agglutinative construction. The stepwise construction is as follows:
- establish – to set up, put in place, or institute (originally from the Latin stāre, to stand)
- establish-ment – something established, in particular a church instituted by law, such as the Church of England
- dis-establishment – the separation of church and state (specifically in this context it is the political movement of the 1860s in Britain)
- disestablishment-arian – an advocate of disestablishment
- anti-disestablishmentarian – an advocate of opposition to disestablishment (alternatively, but less likely and quite similar in meaning, "opposed to disestablishmentarians", depending on what "anti-" is taken to belong to)
- antidisestablishmentarian-ism – the movement or ideology of advocates of opposition to disestablishment; the movement or ideology that opposes disestablishment.
Of course, the process need not stop there: prefixes like neo- and contra- can be added, and -istically can be used in place of -ism. The words so created are increasingly more contrived, however, and given that there is essentially no limit to their length (unless artificial constraints are introduced, such as not using any prefix more than once), it is dubious whether any of them can lay a claim to being the "longest" word.
Constructing long words in agglutinative languages for humorous effect is a practice as old as the languages themselves. In his play Assemblywomen, the ancient Greek comedic poet Aristophanes created a word of 170 letters describing a dish by stringing together its ingredients.
Henry Carey's farce Chrononhotonthologos, The Most Tragical Tragedy That Ever Was Tragedized by Any Company of Tragedians (1743) holds the opening line: "Aldiborontiphoscophornio! Where left you Chrononhotonthologos?"
A number of scientific naming schemes can be used to generate arbitrarily long words.
The systematic convention for naming chemical elements of large atomic number is open-ended, for example unbitriquadpenthexseptoctennillium is the name of a hypothetical element with atomic number 1234567890.
John Horton Conway and Landon Curt Noll developed an open-ended system for naming powers of 10, in which one sexmilliaquingentsexagintillion, deriving from the Latin for 6560, is the name for 103×(6560+1) = 1019683.
The IUPAC nomenclature for organic chemical compounds is open-ended, giving rise to such words as Methionylthreonylthreonyl...isoleucine (189,819 letters), Methionylalanylthreonyl...leucine (64,060 letters), Methionylglutaminyl...serine (1913 letters), and Acetylseryltyrosylserylisol...serine (1185 letters).
There is some debate as to whether or not a place name is a legitimate word. Without entering that debate, let it be noted that the longest officially recognized place name in an English-speaking country is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu (85 letters) which is a hill in New Zealand.
The longest place name in the United States (45 letters) is Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, a lake in Massachusetts. The longest hyphenated name in the U.S. is Winchester-on-the-Severn, a town in Maryland. Washington-on-the-Brazos is a notable place in Texas history and has the same length.
The 58 character name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the famous name of a town in Anglesey in the United Kingdom. This place name is actually 51 letters long, as certain character groups in Welsh are considered as one letter, for instance ll, ng and ch.
It is generally agreed, however, that this invented name, adopted in the mid 19th century, was contrived solely to be the longest name of any town in Britain. The official name of the place is Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, commonly abbreviated to "Llanfairpwll" or the somewhat jocular "Llanfair PG". The longest station name in the UK, at 68 letters, is also in Wales: Gorsafawddacha'idraigodanheddogleddollônpenrhynareurdraethceredigion was specifically contrived to "beat" Llanfairpwllgwyngyll.
In Ireland, the longest English placename at 22 letters is Muckanaghederdauhaulia (from the Irish language, Muiceanach idir dhá sháile, meaning pig-marsh between two saltwater inlets) in County Galway. If this is disallowed for being derived from Irish, or not a town, the longest at 19 letters is Newtownmountkennedy in County Wicklow.
It is questionable whether any of the above are properly considered English words, being derived from Maori, Nipmuk, Welsh and Irish words respectively, or being a conjunction of individual English words.
A popular joke answer to the 'longest word' question is the word smiles, credited as the longest word because there is a mile between each s. Of course, by this reckoning the word beleaguered, which contains a league, is even longer.
According to some, the longest word is the word after the sentence "And now, a word from our sponsors".
Although only fourteen letters long, sesquipedalian deserves a mention. It is derived from a nonce word used by the Roman author Horace, in his work "Ars Poetica" (The Art of Poetry). The quote is as follows: "Proicit ampullas et sesquipedalia verba," which means, "He throws aside his paint pots and his words that are a foot and a half long". The Oxford English dictionary lists sesquipedalianism ("the practice of using words one and a half feet long"), and further derivations can be created as described in the "Constructions" section above.
- English language
- One-letter English word
- Two-letter English word
- List of the longest English words with one syllable
Sesquipedalian. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971)