Thursday, March 22, 2012

Things I Find Fascinating: Ridiculously Long Words And Their Meanings

Any of you who regularly read this blog will attest to the fact that I am avid lover of words. Words of all shapes, sizes, and even languages. As many words as I am familiar with and use regularly, there are thousands more that I've never heard of and never used. I'm always happy to come across a new word, learn its meaning, and then attempt to work it into general conversation or perhaps one of my writings.

The words that follow are certainly new and fun words, but I don't know if I'll ever use them in conversation or in print. Mainly because they're almost without exception unpronounceable and incredibly bulky. They are the ten most ridiculously long words I could find. Hope you'll enjoy learning about them as much as I did...

1)  Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis:  This 45-letter beauty is believed to be the longest word listed in a major dictionary. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is a technical term used to describe "a lung disease caused by the inhalation of very fine silica dust, causing inflammation in the lungs." The word was invented in 1935 by Everett M. Smith, president of the National Puzzlers' League, at its annual meeting.

2)  Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism:  This 30-letter word describes an inherited disorder in which the individual has the phenotypic appearance of pseudohypoparathyroidism (24 letters) type 1a, but is biochemically normal. If you've ever heard of Albright hereditary osteodystrophy (I know I sure haven't),  pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism is sometimes considered a variant of that. Did you get all that? Me neither! Moving on...

3)  Antidisestablishmentarianism:  I became familiar with this word when I was just a child, and was fascinated by its exceptional length. Couldn't have told you a thing about what it meant, though. Thanks to the wonderful World Wide Web, now I can. This 28-letter word is a term which refers to a political position originating in 19th-century Britain in opposition to proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England – in other words, antidisestablishmentarians (26 letters) were not in favor of removing the Anglican Church's status as the state church of England, Ireland, and Wales. The Church's establishment was ultimately maintained in England, but in Ireland the Church of Ireland (Anglican) was disestablished in 1871. In Wales, four Church of England dioceses were disestablished in 1920, subsequently becoming the Church in Wales. The question of disestablishment of the Church of England is still current, often tied with the position of the English monarch as "Supreme Governor" of the Church.

4)  Floccinaucinihilipilification:  This 29-letter monstrosity is a word meaning "the act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant, of having no value, or being worthless." (One could make a floccinaucinihilipilification regarding this blog post, I suppose.) Have you ever seen that movie Master And Commander with Russell Crowe? I haven't, but apparently it's based on a book of the same title by Patrick O'Brian – a book which includes the following quote: "There is a systematic floccinaucinihilipilification of all other aspects of existence that angers me." Seeing as nobody talks like this in real life, I'm betting that Mr. O'Brian was just trying to impress the ladies with his mad wordsmith skills. And I'd bet money it didn't work, either.

5)  Honorificabilitudinitatibus:  This 27-word mouthful is taken directly from the Latin, and can be translated as "the state of being able to achieve honors." The word is mentioned by the character Costard in Act V, Scene I of William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. Honorificabilitudinitatibus is regarded as the longest word in the English language featuring alternating consonants and vowels. How cool is that?

6)  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious:  This 34-letter nonsense word was invented as part of a song by the same name which originally appeared in the 1964 Disney musical Mary Poppins. If you've seen the movie more than once, the chorus of this song is probably playing on repeat in your head right now, just like it is in mine. Sorry about that. According to the film, the word is defined as "something to say when you have nothing to say."  (Which, ironically, could also describe today's blog post.)

7)  Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia:  When you're looking for really long words, you can't go wrong with a good ol' phobia. This 29-letter word is used to describe the fear of the number "666", also called the Number of the Beast in Revelation 13:18 in the Bible. Notable hexakosioihexekontahexaphobiacs include Nancy and Ronald Reagan who, in 1979, when moving to the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, had their new house's address changed from 666 St. Cloud Road to 668 St. Cloud Road. Also, the Dutch Christian organization Stichting Opwekking (translated Revival Foundation) skipped the number 666 when assembling their songbook "because of the sensitivity amongst people." My own grandmother once refused to pay a store clerk the $6.66 she owed them out of fear of the number. She paid them $6.67 instead and told them to keep the change.

8)  Friggatriskaidekaphobia:  Speaking of phobias, this 23-letter word is used to describe the fear of Friday the 13th. Apparently, superstition regarding this arbitrary day began as early as the 19th century (and not the 1980's with all those "Jason" movies). Many theories have been proposed about the origin of the superstition. However, most think the reason that Friday the 13th is considered a phobia-worthy event is due to an amalgamation of two older superstitions – that thirteen is an unlucky number (which goes all the way back to Biblical days) and that Friday is an unlucky day (which goes at least as far back as the 14th century, as it was mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales).

9)  Deinstitutionalization:  This 22-letter word – probably not that uncommon especially when compared to others in this list – is a term used to describe the process of replacing long-stay psychiatric hospitals with less-isolated community mental health service for those diagnosed with a mental disorder or developmental disability. Okay, this one's boring. Moving on...

10)  Sesquipedalianism:  The shortest word in this bunch, nonetheless this 18-letter doozy describes a linguistic style that involves the use of long words. Which is basically why I picked it to add to this list. Sesquipedalianism might also be characterized as polysyllabic holophrastic verbalism – but I refuse to call it that. Because sesquipedalianism sounds way cooler. Various motivations drive the sesquipedalian, including: lexical precision (sure, why not?); to demonstrate the benefits of erudition (I know I've always benefited from erudition); and to disempower intellectual challenge (disempower to the people!). I don't know what most of that means – sounds like a load of codswallop to me. But that doesn't stop me from loving the word sesquipedalianism!

Maybe next time – if I think you're ready for them – I'll introduce you to some ridiculously-long-but-awesomely-named places, like Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg (in Webster, Massachusetts), or Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllanty-siliogogogoch (a village in Wales), or Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauota-mateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitnatahu (a hill in New Zealand), or maybe even Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein (a farm in South Africa). But for now, I'll just let you recuperate from these ten...

(Thank you,, for the bulk of the information regarding the history of these words.)

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