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Do you remember learning what you thought was the longest word in the English language? Was it ANTI­DIS­ESTABLISH­MENT­ARIAN­ISM? Or the similarly long SUPER­CALI­FRAGI­LISTIC­EXPI­ALI­DOCIOUS?

There are longer ones...

Most very long words only occur in one or two dictionaries, and often they are debatably not words at all. For example, ANTI­DIS­ESTABLISH­MENT­ARIAN­ISM has possibly never really been used to mean "the belief which opposes removing the tie between church and state." Certainly 99 in 100 times it is used as an example of a long word. And who says you can't put NON– (for example) on the beginning to make it even longer?

This problem is even more evident in chemical names. Most chemicals are named using a systematic naming system which methodically describes the molecule's structure. Some molecules, such as proteins, are huge, so it is possible to come up with genuine words containing millions of letters. But of course no chemist uses these really long names in practice.

Here we look at some of the longest words in English dictionaries, and discuss whether they should be considered to be real words. Interesting long chemical terms and place names are listed separately afterwards. The numbers indicate the length (number of letters) of the word that follows.

Longest Words:

(45) PNEUMONO­ULTRA­MICRO­SCOPIC­SILICO­VOLCANO­CONIOSIS (also spelled PNEUMONO­ULTRA­MICRO­SCOPIC­SILICO­VOLCANO­KONIOSIS) = a lung disease caused by breathing in particles of siliceous volcanic dust.

This is the longest word in any English dictionary. However, it was coined by Everett Smith, the President of The National Puzzlers' League, in 1935 purely for the purpose of inventing a new "longest word". The Oxford English Dictionary described the word as factitious. Nevertheless it also appears in the Webster's, Random House, and Chambers dictionaries.

(37) HEPATICO­CHOLANGIO­CHOLECYST­ENTERO­STOMIES = a surgical creation of a connection between the gall bladder and a hepatic duct and between the intestine and the gall bladder.

This is the longest word in Gould's Medical Dictionary.

(34) SUPER­CALI­FRAGI­LISTIC­EXPI­ALI­DOCIOUS = song title from the Walt Disney movie Mary Poppins.

It is in the Oxford English Dictionary.

"But then one day I learned a word

That saved me achin' nose,

The biggest word you ever 'eard,

And this is 'ow it goes:

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!"

(30) HIPPOPOTO­MONSTRO­SESQUIPED­AL­IAN = pertaining to a very long word.

From Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words.

(29) FLOCCI­NAUCINI­HILIPIL­IFICATION = an estimation of something as worthless.

This is the longest word in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Interestingly the most common letter in English, E, does not appear in this word at all, whilst I occurs a total of nine times. The word dates back to 1741. The 1992 Guinness Book of World Records calls flocci­nauci­nihili­pilification the longest real word in the Oxford English Dictionary, and refers to pneumono­ultra­micro­scopic­silico­volcano­koniosis as the longest made-up one.

(28) ANTI­DIS­ESTABLISH­MENT­ARIAN­ISM = the belief which opposes removing the tie between church and state.

Probably the most popular of the "longest words" in recent decades.

(27) HONORI­FICABILI­TUDINI­TATIBUS = honorableness.

The word first appeared in English in 1599, and in 1721 was listed by Bailey's Dictionary as the longest word in English. It was used by Shakespeare in Love's Labor's Lost (Costard; Act V, Scene I):

"O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words.

I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word;

for thou art not so long by the head as

honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier

swallowed than a flap-dragon."

Shakespeare does not use any other words over 17 letters in length.

(27) ELECTRO­ENCEPHALO­GRAPHICALLY

The longest unhyphenated word in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th Ed.), joint with ethylene­diamine­tetraacetate (see below).

(27) ANTI­TRANSUB­STAN­TIA­TION­ALIST = one who doubts that consecrated bread and wine actually change into the body and blood of Christ.

(21) DIS­PRO­PORTION­ABLE­NESS and (21) IN­COM­PREHEN­SIB­ILITIES

These are described by the 1992 Guinness Book of World Records as the longest words in common usage.

Some say SMILES is the longest word because there is a MILE between the first and last letters!

 

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