Good morning, everyone! One of you language lovers asked me to do a column on long words, and as you know, your wishes are my commands! I found an interesting article about this very topic, titled 14 of the Longest Words in English, by Shundalyn Allen. Rather than overwhelm you with all 14 at once, we’re going to cover this subject over the next two days. Enjoy!
Yes, this article is about some of the longest English words on record. No, you will not find the very longest word in English in this article. That one word would span about fifty-seven pages. It’s the chemical name for the titin protein found in humans. Its full name has 189,819 letters. Would you like to hear it pronounced? One man helpfully sounds it out in a YouTube video, but pop some popcorn before you get started! It will take you over three hours to watch—it’s just slightly shorter than the film Gone with the Wind. Dictionaries omit the name of this protein and many other long words. Obviously, dictionaries have space constraints, and the average person would have no need to know the technical names of chemicals. Still, there are plenty of lengthy words in dictionaries. Let’s take a moment to appreciate a few of them.
1. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (forty-five letters) is lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica or quartz dust.
2. Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism (thirty letters) is a mild form of inherited pseudohypoparathyroidism that simulates the symptoms of the disorder but isn’t associated with abnormal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.
3. Floccinaucinihilipilification (twenty-nine letters) is the estimation of something as valueless. Ironically, floccinaucinihilipilification is a pretty valueless word itself; it’s almost never used except as an example of a long word.
4. Antidisestablishmentarianism (twenty-eight letters) originally described opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England, but now it may refer to any opposition to withdrawing government support of a particular church or religion.
5. What’s the longest word you know? If you watched Mary Poppins as a child, you might quickly think of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (thirty-four letters). Mary Poppins described it as the word to use “when you have nothing to say.” It appears in some (but not all) dictionaries.
6. Incomprehensibilities set the record in the 1990s as the longest word “in common usage.” How many times have you used this twenty-one-letter term?
“There’s a great power in words, if you don’t hitch too many of them together.”–Josh Billings
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