|Did you know that every word in every
language is either homological
A homological word is one that instantiates its own
meaning. A heterological word is one that does not. Thus,
the word English
is homological because it is an English word, and the
likewise, since it consists of more than one syllable.
The word Chinese, on the other hand, is heterological, since it is not a Chinese word. And the same for the word adjective, since it is a noun.
The word "sesquipedalian", literally meaning "one and a half feet long" (which I will call a sequip for short, although it seems to defeat the purpose) denotes a lengthy word. It was given an extension by Mrs. Brown's Dictionary, forming the new word hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian, meaning a word that is inordinately long. This word is yet to be enter common usage but has nevertheless added another member to the exclusive canon of homological words.
NOTE: For an intriguing aside on heterologicality, see the Addendum at the foot of this page.
|This page, as you may have gathered, is
devoted to exhibiting some long words in English. Since
everybody likes to indulge in peppering their
conversation with some jawbreakers, it is not entirely
surprising that this should become a popular topic. Most
of the words featured here, however, would sound
ungratifyingly pretentious if used in conversation and
would cause a suffusing stain of sapience to spread
across the pages of any English essay they were to
feature in. Verbivores beware!
Long words in this page fall into four categories: literary coinages are covered in Neologisms, which is followed by Medical Terminology, Chemical Nomenclature, and rounded off with Miscellaneous Sesquips.
|The longest word created for a literary
purpose appears in Aristophanes' play The
Ecclusiase. When transliterated
from the Greek to the Roman alphabet, it swells from 170
to 182 letters. Describing a meal made from leftovers,
the word assimilates all 17 ingredients:
In the process of stretching the capabilities of language to its breaking point in Finnegan's Wake, novelist James Joyce seems to have done just that and decided that English was not sufficient to allow him full scope for expression, and so the enfant terrible of Modernism made up his own set of 100-letter words (giving a whole new meaning to the term logocentric). This one represents the sound of breaking glass:
Joyce was perhaps taking his cue from some literary Titans that came before him, for Shakespeare was not averse to coining verbal behemoths, though it must be admitted, with considerably more style and pronouncability. The following 27-letter word, an adjective meaning "with honourableness" appears in Act V, Scene I of Love's Labour's Lost, and is an extension of the now-defunct Elizabethan sesquip honorificabilitudinity:
NOTE: An interesting aside on this word is that, for a time, it played a part in the Shake 'n' Bacon dispute (i.e, was Francis Bacon really Shakespeare?). The reason is that the sesquip is an anagram of the latin "Hi ludi F. Baconis nati tuiti orbi", which means "These works, born of F. Bacon, are preserved for the world".
Staying with drama, among the longest words ever spoken on stage by an actor appear in a farce written in 1743 by Henry Carey. The play opens with the line:
"Aldiborontiphoscophornio! Where left thou Chrononhotlonthologos?"
The play's title was only marginally less ridiculous: "Chrononhotonthologos, the Most Tragic Tragedy ever Tragedized by a Company of Tragedians". (We get the point.)
A 51-letter adjective coined by Thomas Love Peacock to describe the structure of the human body appears in his novel Headlong Hall. Doubtless many of the individual parts used to synthesise the word will be familiar to you.
And finally, the 34-letter word that every sciolistsic child loves to flaunt. And why not? Meaning simply "super", and appearing in the film Mary Poppins, here is the correct spelling of
CANOCONIOSIS, at 45 letters, can claim to be the longest word to be found in any English dictionary. It describes a miner's lung disease, consisting of a pneumoconiosis caused by the inhalation of a very fine silicate or quartz dust.
Dysmorphosteopalinklasy (23 letters) describes the process of refracturing a bone that has healed with a deformity.
Cholangiopancreatography (24 letters) describes an examination of the pancreas using fibreoptics.
Syngenesiotransplation (25 letters). A graft of tissue between two closely realted individuals.
Cystoureteropyelonephritis (26 letters). A combined inflammation of the urinary bladder, uretrus, and kidneys.
Encephalomyeloradiculoneuritis (30 letters). A syndrome casued by a virus associated with encephalitis.
Hepaticococholangiocholecystenterostomy (37 letters). A surgical creation of a connection between the gallbaldder and a hepatic duct and between the intestine and the gallbladder. Also the longest word appearing in Gould's Medical Dictionary.
Uvulapalatopharangoplasty (25 letters) is a curiosity that deserves mention as it is the longest word not containing an e, the most commonly occurring letter in the English language. It describes a surgical procedure involving patients with advanced sleep apnea, whereby the breathing passage is opened by removing the uvula, shortening the palate and removing the tonsils.
|The field of chemistry
can lay claim to the record of having not only the
longest word ever printed (1,913 letters, and it appears
at the end of this section) but also the longest word
ever conceived (but never put in print). This latter
giant, consisting of 3,641 letters (and describing a
bovine NADP-specific glutamate dehydrogenase, which
contains 500 amino acids, fact fans!) has little claim to
legitemacy as an actual word, however, as it was
"artificially" constructed by logophiliacs
attempting to deliberately assemble a verbal monstrosity.
It is little wonder that they turned to the world of
chemistry, as it has in the past proved a prolific
generator of sesquipedalians, as this section is
Anhydroxyprogesterone (26 letters) is a synthetic crystalline female sex hormone.
Octamethylpyrophosphoramide (27 letters). An insecticide.
Hyrdoxydesoxycorticosterone (27 letters). Another crystalline steroid hormone.
Ethylenediamenetetraacetate (27 letters). A type of acidic salt.
Trinitrophenylmethynitramine (29 letters). A liquid explosive.
Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (31 letters) is the full name for DDT.
The Big Methylinchilada:
Comprising 1,913 letters, this is the largest word ever put into print. It is the full title of the protein tryptophan synthetase, and I can assure you that my hyphenation of it for the purposes of fitting it onto this page was quite arbitrary. Don't go near a spell checker or a search engine with this one:
Pharmacy, one: Joyce, nil.
|The following collection of
one-and-a-half-footers actually contains one or two words
that could conceivably and inconspicuously be used in
Antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters) is commonly cited as the longest word in the English langauge. Now you know better. It refers to the opposition to the removal of state support from the church. It can be lengthened by adding the prefixes pseudo- and ultra-.
Antitransubstantiationalist (27 letters) describes the doctrine of disbelief in the consecration.
Comiconomenclaturist (20 letters). A person who collects amusing names.
Disproportionableness (21 letters) A tendency to be out of proportion.
Gynotikolobomassophile (22 letters) A man who likes to nibble on a woman's earlobe.
Philosophicopsycholological (25 letters) That which pertains to both psychology and philosophy.
Philotheoparoptesism (20 letters) Synonym for auto da fé. Essentially the burning of a heretic.
Ultracrepidarianism (19 letters) The practice of contributing opinions on matters one knows little about. Perhaps the locus classicus on this phenomenon is Roger Scruton's remark on George Bernard Shaw:
"Concerning no subject would he be deterred by the minor accident of complete ignorance from penning a definitive opinion."
|ADDENDUM: Grelling's Paradox|
|Also known as the Paradox of Heterologicality, this is a problem in set theory which arises when you consider whether or not the word heterological is homological or heterolological. If we examine it, we can see that it does not constitute an example of its own meaning (thus confirming its heterologicality), but since this is the very definition of heterologicality, then the word must be homological. Thus we arrive at a paradox whereby two mutually exclusive conditions appear to be contemporaneously satisfied.|