Career & Education

Longest words in the English language — part 2

Sunday, January 20, 2019

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Last week we gave you Sesquipedalianism — the tendency to use long words; Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis —the manufactured name of an occupational lung disease (more commonly known as silicosis) resulting from inhaling crystalline silica dust; and Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism — the pretended simulation of the symptoms of pseudohypoparathyroidism, a disorder that acts as if the body is short on the parathyroid hormone when it's actually producing enough.

Here are this week's longest words.

• Antidisestablishmentarianism

Antidisestablishmentarianism is a prime example of a sesquipedalian word, as it's actually the longest “natural” or non-coined word in the English language that isn't scientific in origin. The word isn't really used today, except in reference to very long words (like here).

The word pertains to the 19th-century opposition of (anti) the dismantling of the Anglican Church's place as the state church of England, Ireland, and Wales (disestablishment).

• Floccinaucinihilipilification

Here's one that is also a bit of a Mobius strip: floccinaucinihilipilification is a rarely used word that means “something of little or no value,” and it is usually used in reference to itself!

From the 1700s, the word contains four Latin words that all mean “of little value” or “for nothing”: flocci, nauci, nihili, pili.

• Incomprehensibilities

The longest word in “common usage” is incomprehensibilities; 21 characters that look pretty friendly on the page. But, when was the last time you actually said it?

We define incomprehensible as “impossible to comprehend or understand,” and this expanded version of the word seems pretty practical. We think you'll be using this long word pretty often now that you've read this . . . .

• Uncopyrightables

If you look closely at the spelling, you'll notice a peculiar thing about this word with 16 letters. It does not repeat any letter, each character is used only once. This word is known as an isogram in the field of logology (or “recreational linguistics”). The longest isogram is actually subermatoglyphic, at 17 characters.

But, since subd ermatoglyphics, related to the study of fingerprints, lines, and hand shapes, is a bit scientific and certainly not one that is used often, we're spotlighting uncopyrightables instead, because it's one we can all remember. It means, of course, “items that are unable to be copyrighted,” such as catchphrases or recipes.

• Squirrelled

We appreciate the uniqueness of this word. Most English dictionaries accept this spelling (some prefer one l), which makes squirrelled (“to hide something of value away in a safe place”) the longest word pronounced in one syllable. It's like squirrelling away your syllables for a rainy day.

• Uncharacteristically

There are a few words in the 22-letter range that are not scientific, and not coined, but they are used pretty rarely (counterrevolutionaries, deinstitutionalisation). But, the most common one (OK, it's 20-characters . . .) is uncharacteristically, which means “to do something that is not typical of a particular person or thing.”

• Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane

This is the longest word (well not really word, but item) banned by the government: dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or as it's known by the easier to pronounce abbreviation, DDT. Agricultural use of the chemical was banned back in 1973.

• Abstentious

This is the longest word using vowels in order (exactly once). A tip of the blue cap to Mental Floss for this one. The 11-letter AEIOU word is abstentious, which means you don't indulge to excess (a variant of the word abstain).


We thought we'd end with a word that might evoke a happy childhood memory. If you've seen the 1964 movie Mary Poppins, you might remember singing along to the song, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which had the rare effect of making a kid feel both brainy and clever.

The made-up word was Mary's way of expressing delight; however, the word is in major dictionaries today. We define it as “a nonsense word by children to express approval or to represent the longest word in English.”


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