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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Poetry XIII -- THE LONGEST WORD, whose poetic value is debatable

According to my falling-apart, 1946 edition of Ripley's Believe it or Not, the longest word in the English language is this:


According to Mr. Ripley:

"The long word of 310 letters was used as a means of demonstrating: 1.  The extent to which even the English language is capable of forming enormous word monsters, and, 2.  The whole field of superstitious divinatory practices which are as old as humanity.

"The literal translation of the long word is 'A deluded human who practices divination or forecasting by means of phenomena, interpretation of acts or other manifestations related to the following animate or inanimate objects and appearances: birds, oracles, Bible, ghosts, crystal gazing, shadows, air appearances, birth, stars, meteors, winds, sacrificial appearances, entrails of humans and fishes, fire, red-hot irons, altar smoke, mice, grain picking by rooster, snakes, herbs, fountains, water, wands, dough, meal, barley, salt, lead, dice, arrows, hatchet balance, sieve, ring suspension, random dots, precious stones, pebbles, pebble heaps, mirrors, ash writing, dreams, palmistry, nail rays, finger rings, numbers, book passages, name letterings, laughing manners, ventriloquism, circle walking, wax, susceptibility to hidden springs, wine, and shoulder blades.'

"Various monastic authors of the Middle Ages writing on the subject of human superstition have actually used such a long word with a slightly varying sequence of items."


Wikipedia disagrees: here.

While my contemporary edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has a nicely assembled discussion on the subject of long words, the online 1898 edition is yet informative (here).

However, longestwordinenglish.wordpress.com, pretty much wipes out Mr. Ripley's claim, though it's claim as a "real" word is more dubious that Ripley's.  Of course if we can just jam together a bunch of Latin roots and call it a word, why not a bunch of English bits and pieces?  Is there a difference?

And really, what's the point?  I mean, aside from the utter fun factor!  If a "word" is never going to be used aside from the moment of its conception, then what is it really?


* Somehow (go figure) there are 311 letters in my transcription of the word.  Not that I'm particularly worried about it.  longestwords.wordpress.com seems to agree with me (here).



  1. The longestwordinenglish one is bullcrap for the record. That would be like saying that the end of "Ulysses" is composed of real sentences. Sorry. No dice. I can clearly see using the first one, not the second.

  2. or just take some random novel and remove all the spaces and punctuation and call it one word -- I thought it was pretty ridiculous

    The first I like more than anything because of the book it comes from -- that and it's a word about superstition. Cool.

  3. At a young age my father told me that pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis was the longest word. Wiki deems it the longest in a "major dictionary" - whatever that means.

  4. And the longest "standard English" word is that antidisestablishmentarianism. Heck, google even recognizes it (no spell-check squiggles), but I found other places (reputable places) that claim it's just a big word for the sake of being a big word.

  5. more word posts like this! i love hearing about crazy words or the history of a word--the like. great post.

  6. Can do -- maybe this could become a new feature.

  7. Antidisestablishmentarianism is legit. (At least I believe that) it's the belief in opposition to the "disestablishing" an official church.

    For the record, I am a disestablishmentarianist. And I love how my box is underlining THAT, but not antidisestablishmentarianism. I guess that the latter is more well known due to its length.

  8. There seems to be a lot to a word's frequency of use that assists google's determination of opinion (yes, opinion) regarding the correctness of its spelling.

    By the way, are there other words that have a double negative ("correctly" used or not) inherent to its first few syllables?

  9. Hmm... that's a really interesting question. But in this case it actually makes sense. Establishmentarianism would be wanting TO ESTABLISH an official church. Antidisestablishmentarianism is just protecting whatever establishment is already in place. Give me a bit of time to think on this. I'm thinking that there HAS to be another political movement like this. I mean, the idea of politics is almost always adversarial, so lots of "anti"s.

    And yes, Google is total crap, and so is Microsoft Word, no matter how often and vigorously people swear by it, on spelling, but ESPECIALLY on complex sentences. Word is idiotic when it comes to any sentence over about 10-15 words.

  10. For a moment I was almost tempted to say that the double negative cancels itself out, but that can't be the case. They're negations of different weights and qualities.

    In defense of spellcheckers, they're helpful in catching a lot of my irritating typos. It would be a lot worse without them. Grammar check, on the other, I just turn off.

  11. Yeah, I still keep grammar check on in case I make an accidental mistake like confusing the plurality of the noun with the verb, using passive voice, or (GOD FORBID) splitting the infinitive.

  12. Interestingly, there's a school (mostly the generally lazy, though they have good argument) fighting, though fairly passively, against the application of Latinate grammar on English. The whole reason you're not supposed to split infinitives (which I attempt to avoid generally, but which I throw aside for the sake of cadence or other rhetorical effect) or end sentences with prepositions or dangle modifiers is because in Latinate languages (like French, from which we garner the majority of our "standard" English grammar) it's either impossible (split infinitives) or utterly irrational and nonsensical to do so. This is why I need to finally study German, which is the closer of our language's various parents.

    Does grammar check identify passive?

    I had a teacher once he outlawed all forms of "to be" as a steadfast against passive and "weak" word choice. When I"m trying to write something (and paying close attention) grabbing or powerful, I follow her advice. And really, her advice is pretty much always applicable, but it takes a lot of attention. Maybe I just need to practice more.

    (This was a lot longer than I thought it would be.)

  13. Yeah, I've always followed the logic on why one shouldn't split an infinitive. The, "to," before the verb is really part of the word. I'm sure that there must be another language that does this, but I haven't seen it in Spanish or German, among those that I have studied.

    To get it to check passive, you have to go to the settings of it and manually add the option. I also have it check for trite expressions.

  14. I don't have much problem with splitting infinitives, because I see them as two separate words, otherwise English isn't its own language. I am interested to find out if there are--or which--other languages have two words for infinitive form.

  15. I guess that I see what you're saying. I still think that they're one word, though. If they're two separate words, then which part of speech is "to"?

  16. In any other usage, "to" is a preposition; thinking about it, the word still works as a preposition if you separate it in verbal form from its root.

    I think, but I want to work on this one.


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