The five longest words in the dictionary

Last week, we took a look at the effects of long words and complicated language, and how they can actually limit your writing rather than enhance it.

In slight defiance of our own advice, this week we’re going to look at the longest words in our language (according to Oxford Dictionaries) and what they mean. It’s completely up to you whether you want to take this as a challenge to get these words into your writing, or a guide as to what to avoid in 99.99% of cases!

5. Spectrophotofluorometrically

Most of the longest English words are highly scientific or technical and don’t appear in standard dictionaries, but this one does.

A spectrophotofluorometre is a tool used to assess the amount of light given off by something, so in its 28-letter adverbial form, we could use a sentence like “the sample was assessed spectrophotofluorometrically.”

4. Antidisestablishmentarianism

Also 28 letters, this term is more commonly heard and used, even though it’s usually done so simply to give an example of a very long word.

‘Establishmentarianism’ is the practice of adhering to and supporting the principles of the Church of England, so ‘disestablishmentarianism’ is the opposite of this and often refers to advocating the separation of church and state. Therefore, ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ is opposition to disestablishmentarianism.

It could be seen as a double negative and having more or less the same meaning as ‘establishmentarianism’, but it’s recognised in most dictionaries.

3. Floccinaucinihilipilification

Of Latin origin and very seldom used, this 29-letter word means the act of making or estimating something as worthless. As an example, if you think all these words are pretty ridiculous and pointless, we could say “your floccinaucinihilipilification of these words is plain to see!”

2. Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism

Another scientific word, but one that’s in common enough usage to make it into the dictionary and even have a Wikipedia page, despite being a mindboggling 30 letters long.

To get our heads round it, we have to first understand that pseudohypoparathyroidism is a rare parathyroid hormone resistance condition. In basic terms, if a patient appears to have this condition but doesn’t, we can put another ‘pseudo-‘ at the start and describe their condition as pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism.

1. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

This frankly ludicrous 45-letter word is often memorised by linguistic show-offs, along with the Welsh village name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, but what on Earth does it mean?

It’s defined as a lung disease contracted by inhaling volcanic ash, but in reality, it’s unlikely that such a condition exists and the word is believed to have been coined by puzzle enthusiast Everett M. Smith in the 1930s, but its legacy lives on.

These words have a novelty value and, in some cases, a scientific use, but it’s unlikely most of us will ever use them in our lives unless, like in this article, we’re simply trying to demonstrate long words.

To improve as a writer, it’s more beneficial to learn how to use everyday language well – something our Freelance Writing for Businesses and Business Blogging for Beginners courses can help with.

Categories: Words and Language

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