A puzzler recently sent me an interesting extract from Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words, listing the longest word in the English language. I can’t print it here because it has 1913 letters in it. It is a chemical term, although it’s a word unlikely to have ever actually been used by a chemist. Theoretically, there is no limit to the length of a chemical term. If a DNA molecule was written out in full, it could consist of over a million letters.
So, if we ruled out technical terms and place names, what is the longest word in the English language?
Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis is the longest word that appears in the Oxford Dictionary of English, defined as ‘an artificial long word said to mean a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust’. It was invented in 1935 by Everett M Smith, the president of the National Puzzlers’ League for the sole purpose of serving as the longest English word to appear in an English language dictionary. I’m sure many of you will agree that the authenticity of this word is questionable.
Another dubious long word that is listed in Oxford is floccinaucinihilipilification, meaning ‘the action or habit of estimating something as worthless’. The word is said to have been invented in the eighteenth century when somebody picked up an Eton College grammar book, found a set of Latin words in it (flocci, nauci, nihili and pili) all of which meant ‘of little or no value’, and decided to join them together and add fication to the end of it for a bit of fun!
Mary Poppins introduced us to supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It is made up of 34 letters and you’re more likely to sing it loudly than to say it, even though it means ‘something to say when you have nothing to say’.
So, that brings us to the longest non-technical, authentic word that can be found in all major dictionaries – antidisestablishmentarianism. It means ‘opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England’. According to Oxford, it is very occasionally found in genuine use.
Rest assured, you won’t find any of these words in our puzzles. The longest word you’re likely to come across in a Lovatts crossword is poluphloisboiotatotic, and of course we all know what that means!
P.S Just joking, didn’t really expect you to know that one! It’s not in the dictionary. It means very loud roaring. It was invented by William Makepeace Thackeray in his Irish Sketchbook of 1834.