English language/Long words

< English language

HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

There are endless debates over what is the longest word in the English language, and these debates revolve around the terms of consideration. If scientific or technical terms are allowed wholesale, then there is a potential for words of indescribable length, particularly in regard to the naming of organic and biological compounds such as proteins.

The longest word ever to appear in a non-technical dictionary of English is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis defined as a lung disease caused by the inhalation of very fine silica dust (Source: OED). This 45 letter word first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1936, and has also since appeared in the Webster's Third New International Dictionary (under the alternate spelling of -konioisis), the Random House Unabridged Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, to name but a few.

Even though this word is definitively the longest word ever included in a dictionary of general English, critics have complained that this word is still a technical term (specifically, a medical term), and hence not worthy of consideration as the "longest word in general usage".

Regardless whether one considers that complaint valid, there is yet another, more serious problem with the term, which is referred to by logologists as "p45", which is that the word is a hoax. In Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics, in several separate articles (May 1985, pp. 95-96; November 1986, pp. 205-206; May 1987, p. 82), researchers discovered that the word was made up wholesale in 1935 by by Everett M. Smith, president of the National Puzzler's League, as an example of a theoretical word that might one day enter use if trends in medical word coinage were to continue. Research into the body of medical literature prior to his usage in 1935 have never successfully shown that the word existed prior to his coinage.

His prediction seems to have been proven true by the 207,000+ letter word cited by the Guiness Book of World Records which allegedly represents the name for human mitochondrial DNA.

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 a "real" word.

The Guinness Book of Records in 1992 (and subsequent editions) declares 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 US Senate (Senator Jesse Helms used the word in 1999 during the debate on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [Randolph V. Cinco]) and at the White House (by Press Secretary Mike McCurry in his December 6, 1995, White House Press Briefing).

Antidisestablishmentarianism (A movement opposed to the separation of church and state) at 28 letters is popularly believed to be the longest word. It is arguably the "best-known".

Constructions
It should be noted that English is a language which permits the legitimate extension of existing words to serve new purposes by the addition of prefixes and suffixes. As an example, one of the longest words used in the Wikipedia is contraneoantidisestablishmentarianistically at 43 letters, (although there are reasons to believe this was somewhat contrived.) The length of this word is enhanced by the use of "contra" and especially the suffix "-alistically" which can frequently be added to words ending in "-tion" (eg. nationalistically, traditionalistically).

The word nonetheless is an interesting study in just how complex a word can legitimately be assembled. This word can be analysed as follows:
-disestablishment- - the separation of Church and State (specifically in this context it is the Political movement of the 1860's in Great Britain.)
disestablishment-arian - a person in support of the movement designed to bring about the above (hereafter called the 'first' movement).
anti-disestablishment-arian - a person belonging to the movement opposed to the first movement.
neo-anti-disestablishment-arian - a person belonging to the new version of the movement opposed to the first movement. (Appropriate because in this context the original antidisestablishment movement had become defunct).
contra-neo-anti-disestablishment-arian - a person belonging to the movement opposed to the new version of the movement opposed to the first movement.
contra-neo-anti-disestablishment-arian-alistically - behaving in the manner of a person belonging to the movement opposed to the new version of the movement opposed to the first movement.


Technical terms
An 1185-letter chemical term for the "Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Dahlemense Stain" was published in the American Chemical Society's Chemical Abstracts in 1972 and is considered by some to be the longest real word. It does hold the record for the longest word ever published in an English language publication in a serious context (ie. for some reason other than to publish a very long word).

Acetylseryltyrosylserylisoleucylthreonylserylprolylserylglutaminylphenylalanylvalylphenylalanylleucylserylserylvalyltryptophyla -lanylaspartylprolylisoleucylglutamylleucylleucylasparaginylvalylcysteinylthreonylserylserylleucylglycylasparaginylglutaminylpheny -lalanylglutaminylthreonylglutaminylglutaminylalanylarginylthreonylthreonylglutaminylvalylglutaminylglutaminylphenylalanylserylglu -taminylvalyltryptophyllysylprolylphenylalanylprolylglutaminylserylthreonylvalylarginylphenylalanylprolylglycylaspartylvalyltyrosy -llysylvalyltyrosylarginyltyrosylasparaginylalanylvalylleucylaspartylprolylleucylisoleucylthreonylalanylleucylleucylglycylthreonyl -phenylalanylaspartylthreonylarginylasparaginylarginylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylvalylglutamylasparaginylglutaminylglutaminylserylp -rolylthreonylthreonylalanylglutamylthreonylleucylaspartylalanylthreonylarginylarginylvalylaspartylaspartylalanylthreonylvalylalan -ylisoleucylarginylserylalanylasparaginylisoleucylasparaginylleucylvalylasparaginylglutamylleucylvalylarginylglycylthreonylglycyll -eucyltyrosylasparaginylglutaminylasparaginylthreonylphenylalanylglutamylserylmethionylserylglycylleucylvalyltryptophylthreonylser -ylalanylprolylalanylserine

Place Names
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 recognised place name in an English-speaking country is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu (85 letters) which is a small town in New Zealand.

The 58 letter name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the famous name of a town in Wales in the United Kingdom. Critics, however, have alleged that the name (which was adopted in the mid 19th century) was contrived solely to be "the longest name of a town in Great Britain".

The longest place name in the United States is Winchester-on-the-Severn, a town in Maryland. The longest unhyphenated name in the U. S. is Mooselookmeguntic, a lake in Maine.