A look at Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism II

I was introducing you to the admirable, though now largely forgotten, habit of “hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism”….. and if you dont know what the words means or happen to have read the earlier post, read on… you might soon come to understand.

I had dealt with three languages, the rather admirable German, Danish and Dutch examples and I now carry on from there… But before I go back to the language-wise description, there is a concept which is responsible for engendering some long words, in a number of languages, though not necessarily the longest in all.

This concept is concerned with the basic law of a nation, and the way it is regarded, or rather not. 

The longest usual word in French happens to be anticonstitutionnellement (24 letters), meaning “anticonstitutionally” or in a way which is not conforming to the constitution), while their southern neighbours, the Italians have anticostituzionalissimamente (28 letters) or for you all dear unilinguists,  “in a way that strongly violates the constitution”.

The Portugese win this particular regional competition with  anticonstitucionalissimamente  (29 letters) or “in a very unconstitutionally way”.

The only ones missing here in this regional tie are the Spanish, who also used to have anticonstitucionalmente (23 letters), before the Real Academia Española removed it from its dictionary in 2005.

However, the European champion is Bulgarian with its 41-letter-long  Непротивоконституционствувателствуванията (oh, Neprotivokonstitutsionstvuvatelstvuvaniyata, for all you unfamiliar with the Cyrillic script) However, this “Actions of not acting against the Constitution.”

Now lets get back to our trip, where I have great pleasure in informing you that Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism is not a modern phenomenon.

Over three hundred years, before the era we calculate our time from commenced, the Greek playwright Aristophanes in his 390 BCE play  Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι (oh sorry, I mean Ekklēsiáksousai or in its Latinised version, Ecclesiazusae or better for you, Assemblywomen,Women in ParliamentWomen in Power, and A Parliament of Women as it is generally rendered in English),  coined the longest word ever seen in literature.

It was the 183-letter word λοπαδο­τεμαχο­σελαχο­γαλεο­κρανιο­λειψανο­δριμ­υπο­τριμματο­σιλφιο­καραβο­μελιτο­κατακεχυ­μενο­κιχλ­επι­κοσσυφο­φαττο­περιστερ­αλεκτρυον­οπτο­κεφαλλιο­κιγκλο­πελειο­λαγῳο­σιραιο­βαφη­τραγανο­πτερύγων (or for you, Lopado­timacho­selacho­galeo­kranio­leipsano­drim­hypo­trimmato­silphiopara-o­melito­katakechy­meno­kichl­epi­kossypho­phatto­perister­alektryon­opteke-phallio­kigklo­peleio­lagoio­siraio­baphe­tragano­pterygon….. should you want to try to say it out aloud… and know what talking Greek is all about.

Just for the record, I must mention Shakespeare could only come up with the 27-letter-long “honorificabilitudinitatibus” in his Love’s Labour’s Lost (ActV, Scene i)

Aristophanes’s word was a “name of a dish compounded of all kinds of dainties, fish, flesh, fowl, and sauces,” according to a pair of renowned scholars. The ingredients included fish slices, fish of the Elasmobranchii subclass (a shark or ray), rotted dogfish (or small shark’s head),  several sharp-tasting  ingredients grated and pounded together, laserwort (apparently a kind of giant fennel), a kind of crab, shrimp, or crayfish, honey, thrush, blackbird, wood pigeon, domestic pigeon, chicken,
roasted dabchick, hare, new wine, wing and/or fin….. sounds quite a gastronomic feat.

Lets come back to the present….. and English.

The longest scientific term in English is the full chemical name of the world’s largest known protein, titin. Beginning with Methionyl… and ending with …isoleucine, the word contains 189,819 letters. But then how how many of us will have need to say it?

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (45 letters) may be the longest English word to appear in a major dictionary. Originally coined to become a candidate for the longest word in the language, the term eventually developed some independent use in medicine. It is referred to as “P45” by researchers.

Antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters), is the longest non-coined, non-technical English word, and refers to a 19th century political movement that opposed the disestablishment of the Church of England as the state church of England.

Floccinaucinihilipilification (29 letters), or the act of estimating something as being worth so little as to be practically valueless, or the habit of doing so) is the longest non-technical, coined word in the English language.

And I must mention, it faces competition from Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia  (fear of long words), at 35 letters also the longest non-coined, non-technical word but to my mind, a most irrational act.

To be continued….


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve on January 16, 2012 at 19:34

    I don’t accept Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia as a word as it is redundant. The use of long words is sesquipedalianism, therefore the fear of long words is sesquipedaliophobia. Seeing as “Hippo” is greek for horse, and “potomac” is greek for river (from which we get the poto in the word), the start of the word references water horses, which have nothing to do with long words.


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