In search of the longest word!

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The identity of the longest word in English has long been disputed and many words have even been created specifically to take the title.

Normally such words are purely technical terms and don’t make it into any recognised dictionaries but there are some exceptions.

The name of the largest known protein, Titin is a whopping 189.819 letters long, taking around 3.5 hours just to pronounce! It is therefore given the short hand: ‘Methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl...isoleucine

But is this really a word? It is disputed, since naming a chemical compound by its individual molecules could mean ending up with words much, much longer than this.

The longest word featured in a major dictionary, and as such the longest ‘official’ word is not a pleasant one, the 45 letter: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling ash.

The next longest word to appear in the dictionary, coming in at 34 characters is ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ as featured in the movie ‘Mary Poppins’ - a word you say when you don’t know what else to say. However this is a coined word and made its way into the dictionary through the popularity of the movie.

In Shakespeare’s work, the longest word to appear is ‘Honorificabilitudinitatibus’ meaning ‘the state of being able to achieve honours’. If you’ve been watching University Challenge on the BBC recently you might be interested to know that ‘Honorificabilitudinitatibus’ is also a hapax legomenon in Shakespeare’s works – it appears only once.

Shakespeare was not the only writer to create his own irresponsibly long words – James Joyce supposedly invented nine 100-letter words.

Why not see if you can invent your own!

29 Apr 2015
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