Have you ever wondered what the longest word in English is? The short answer is
– there is no short answer. The main problem we have to deal with is what is your definition of ‘the longest word’. The easiest solution would be to look for technical terms such as ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis’ – a 45-letter word that refers to lung disease and is the longest English word that can be found in a major dictionary. 45 is not bad but can’t we find something longer? Well if you are asking there is always ‘Methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl…isoleucine’ – the name of the world largest protein, which contains 189,819 letters and takes about three and a half hours to pronounce correctly. It sure is a monster word but is it a ‘real’ word at all? The problem with technical terms such as chemical names is that there is no limit to their length and that feels a little bit like cheating.
Maybe then we should continue our searches in the field of literature. The longest word used in William Shakespeare’s work – ‘Honorificabilitudinitatibus’ (27 letters) – appears in Love’s Labour’s Lost. While it is used by Shakespeare, it is actually a mediaeval Latin word that means ‘being in the state of being capable to receive honours’. It is also worth mentioning that ‘Honorificabilitudinitatibus’ is the longest word in the English language that contains alternating consonants and vowels. We can also find a few interesting examples in the literature of words that are coined to be the longest they can be, such as ‘Antipericatametaanaparcircumvolutiorectumgustpoops’ that appears in the title of a made-up book on the library shelves in François Rabelais’ pentalogy of novels Gargantua and Pantagruel, or the 100-letter word ‘Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnk-onnbronntonnerronntuonnthun’ used by James Joyce to describe a symbolic thunderclap which accompanied the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. While they are all fun and entertaining, the question reoccurs as to whether these made-up words should count at all. If they are not good enough for you, maybe the old ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ will do the trick – it is still one of the longest (28 letters and 12 syllables) non-coined and non-technical word in the English language.
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