When lexicography goes long

word photoWhat is the longest word in the dictionary?

The key to clear English is usually to use the shortest, simplest, most common words to say what you want to say, and complexity is the enemy of clarity.  Yet there are some very long words around indeed.  Some were awkward constructions, others had technical meanings, and still others were coined specifically to be long.  If we consider only established words that appear in the Oxford English Dictionary we find the three longest words to be:

  • antidisestablishmentarianism – opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England – 28 letters
  • floccinaucinihilipilification – the estimation of something as worthless – 29 letters
  • pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis – a supposed lung disease – 45 letters

Wikipedia suggests some even longer words but, like floccinaucinihilipilification and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis , they appear to have been invented to win the competition for longest English word rather than originating naturally.  The only one that seems to have likely been in common usage at any time is antidisestablishmentarianism, and only then when the Church of England was being separated from the state.

 

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