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Author Topic: What's the Longest Word In The English Language?  (Read 536 times)

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Online WyldRangerTopic starter

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What's the Longest Word In The English Language?
« on: January 21, 2011, 11:11:02 AM »
I just thought this was an interesting article.  :D

http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/01/21/133052745/whats-the-longest-word-in-the-english-language

Quote
The longest word?

Well, that depends on what we mean by "word." If a word is coined just to be long, like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, should that count?

Here are the top candidates. One comes from Shakespeare (of course.) In Love Labour's Lost, a clown named Costard, arrested for having unlawful fling with a milkmaid, gets to say...

 
.
honorificabilitudinitatibus
That's 27 letters. The word means something like "loaded with honors," but, suspiciously, it comes in the middle of a conversation about wordiness, so it might be a word created to be wordy.

Here's one you know better:

 
.
antidisetablishmentarianism
It has 28 letters, but what is it? Just a bundle of suffixes and prefixes piled up into a little attention-grabbing hummock.

The most famous long word (at least in our times) is, of course, Disney's...

supercaliphragilisticexpialidocious
 
.
It uses 34 letters, but doesn't mean anything beyond giving Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (and a slew of animated characters) something to dance to.

 
So what if we want a word that is not famous for being long, but a word that describes something real. What's the longest one of those?

Science writer Sam Kean, in his book The Disappearing Spoon, worked really hard on this and after much sleuthing, he landed on a word that comes not from dancing English nannies but from virus-hunting scientists. It's a protein, found in a virus, but this is a very dangerous, economically important virus, the first ever discovered...

 
.
C785H1220N212O248S2
otherwise known as the dreaded tobacco mosaic virus.

It appeared in all its lettery splendor in 1964 in a reference source for chemists, "Chemical Abstracts." It is one thousand, one hundred and eighty five letters long. So as Sam says, "Take a breath," and...

 
Enlarge .

 .
glutaminylphenylalanylvalylphenylalanylleucylserylseryl-
valyltryptophylalanylaspartylprolylisoleucylglutamyl-
leucylleucylasparaginylvalylcysteinylthreonylserylseryl-
leucylglycylasparaginylglutaminylphenylalanylglutami-
nylthreonylglutaminylglutaminylalanylarginylthreo-
nylthreonylglutaminylvalylglutaminylglutaminylpheny-
lalanylserylglutaminylvalyltryptophyllysylprolylphenyla-
lanylprolylglutaminylserylthreonylvalylarginylphenylala-
nylprolylglycylaspartylvalyltyrosyllysylvalyltyrosylargin-
yltyrosylasparaginylalanylvalylleucylaspartylprolylleucyli-
soleucylthreonylalanylleucylleucylglycylthreonylphenyla-
lanylaspartylthreonylarginylasparaginylarginylisoleucyli-
soleucylglutamylvalylglutamylasparaginylglutaminylglu-
taminylserylprolylthreonylthreonylalanylglutamylthreo-
nylleucylaspartylalanylthreonylarginylarginylvalylaspar-
tylaspartylalanylthreonylvalylalanylisoleucylarginylsery-
lalanylasparaginylisoleucylasparaginylleucylvalylasparagi-
nylglutamylleucylvalylarginylglycylthreonylglycylleucyl-
tyrosylasparaginylglutaminylasparaginylthreonylphenyla-
lanylglutamylserylmethionylserylglycylleucylvalyltrypto-
phylthreonylserylalanylprolylalanylserine

Ta-ta-boom! This has to be the champ. (I know there's a suspiciously large number of "yl" combinations in there, but that's a suffix that biochemists use to describe certain amino acids, so it's truly descriptive). Is it time to unpack the crown?

Is This Really A Word?

Well, just a sec I'm thinking to myself, is this really a word? You can't speak it. Does anybody use it? And not to be over-fussy, but aren't there bigger molecules than the 1,185-long mosaic virus?

Turns out, there are bigger molecules. Sam found a tryptophan protein that runs 1,913 letters that, he says, is over 60 percent longer than the tobacco protein. Which may explain why, for awhile, the Guinness World Records folks ignored tobacco and called tryptophan the king.

Does Anyone Use It?


But that brings us to our second question. Is it being used? That's key. This is about language. Words that aren't used don't count. The tobacco virus word was used (published) in 1964. What about tryptophan? Sam, being Sam, checked himself into the Library of Congress and began looking and...

...after spending hours in the dimly lit stacks...I never located the tryptophan molecule in Chemical Abstracts. It just doesn't seem to have appeared in its full, spelled-out form. To be doubly sure, I hunted down the academic paper that announced the decoding of the tryptophan protein...and there the authors chose to abbreviate the amino acid sequence. So its full name as never appeared in print as far as I can tell, which probably explains why Guiness later rescinded the listing for it as the longest word.
Since the sixties, even though there are bigger, longer molecules that could be words, science journals don't bother to spell them because, says Sam, it would use up enormous amounts of paper and space and frankly, it's just too tedious.

Tobacco It Is!

Therefore, because it slipped into a publication early, the tobacco virus sound the trumpets! gets the nod. It is the longest word in our language.

Quibble, Quibble, Quibble

Final quibble: The tobacco virus "word" is entirely technical. Its spelling is essentially a syllabic string of abbreviations for amino acids.

Isn't there a longish word that is just, you know, a word? (but that's not supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?)

Well, here's one that beats Disney. Sam found it in the Oxford English Dictionary. Their longest non-technical word is:

 
pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
It's a disease. Or rather, it's slang for the disease you get when you inhale silicon dioxide which makes it hard to breathe. Unfortunately it was created to win a puzzle contest in 1935 and therefore doesn't pass some peoples' test for "real" words. Like supercalifragilisticexpealidotious, it might be what they sneeringly call a "trophy" word, something somebody made up to solve a riddle, not an organic, up-from-the-streets, authentic word.

So that leaves us for the longest non-technical word in popular English, back with Ms. Poppins. She (and her cockney friend Burt) are holding on to their non-technical crown which you'd expect. After all, she is practically perfect.

Offline Vincent

Re: What's the Longest Word In The English Language?
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2011, 09:57:36 PM »
My vote is for smiles.

c wut i did thar?

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: What's the Longest Word In The English Language?
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2011, 06:04:57 PM »
Excluding specialized chemical names, I nominate
antibyzantino-irredentoimperialism

meaning "stance or policy against the wishes of fringe parts of the old Eastern Roman empire to form a new empire", or the opposition of the eastern Romans to any wishes of that kind in the countries they'd have taken from another nation, such as the Eastern Goths who had taken over Italy in the 490s and were subdued again by the emperor Justinian in the 6th century.

Another Roman one: lupercaliaficionados, meaning people who are/were major fans of the Lupercalia feast in ancient Rome when men would run around naked through the streets whipping whom they could reach, both men and women. According to Plutarch:

"Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy"

The festival took place in mid February, and one of the days would be the same as the modern St.Valentine's Day. In the years after the death of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony is known to have been one of the priests required to be naked (or, half nude and dressed in goat skins) while runing around the city and whipping the ladies. I bet Nero took the opportunity to hold that rank too.


« Last Edit: February 03, 2011, 06:21:49 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline Oniya

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Re: What's the Longest Word In The English Language?
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2011, 07:16:12 PM »
I suspect that last one of being a portmanteau.  O_o

Offline elone

Re: What's the Longest Word In The English Language?
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2011, 09:54:44 PM »
A bit of a twist here.

How about infinity or maybe eternity. Both are damn long and much easier to say than some of the other suggestions.

Offline Oniya

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Re: What's the Longest Word In The English Language?
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2011, 10:37:48 PM »
Googleplex?  (defined as a 1 followed by a google of zeros.  There isn't enough hydrogen in the universe to 'write' the number out, using one hydrogen atom per zero.)

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: What's the Longest Word In The English Language?
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2011, 01:37:00 AM »
I suspect that last one of being a portmanteau.  O_o

True, but portmanteaus count too and in this case there was no other obvious bridge segment to link them.