Language is always evolving which is why the title for the longest word in the world seems to capture people’s interest. Particular industries have the professional advantage of being able to invent things and thereby invent new words. But others included in the list below have been darn right clever in forging their own legitimacy for being on the list. Here, transcriptionist Mike D shares the longest words in the English language and their origins.
As well as having high words-per-minute speeds, we transcriptionists generally tend to be pretty good at spelling. Who knows why this might be? It could be due to a natural inclination towards words leading us to use them more, and this familiarity leading to a certain level of precision. It could be because getting rid of the wiggly red lines from our word processors trains us to feel pleasure like some Pavlovian system of reward. It may even be down to some simple supernatural blessing. Whatever the cause, it’s nice to be able to spell words, because if you know how a word is spelled, you can determine something of its deeper meaning, and if you can do that, you can better understand what is being said overall.
It’s a pleasure to come across a long, unusual word during audio transcription, and tap it out all cool and collected without missing a beat. There are some words, however, which would make even the most experienced transcriptionists raise their eyebrows, pause the audio, and reach for the dictionary. I’ve done the research, so you don’t have to, here are some of the longest words in the world.
Titin is a protein that works like a spring to make our muscles contract and relax. Despite being a mere five letters, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry nomenclature for this essential molecule is 189,819 letters long, which would surely easily earn it the top spot in the lexical longest league. However, this is obviously cheating, because these chemical names are really more like verbal formulae, and would never be used in practice. Unless, of course, the practice you mean is reading it out, like Dmitry Golubovskiy of Esquire magazine did in 2012, which took him over three and a half hours, like a piece of particularly peculiar modern art.
A wonderful word, initially coined as a political position during the debate on whether the Church of England should remain the state church of England, Wales, and Ireland, and which has evolved to describe any opposition to whoever opposes the establishment. Since this is not a word from the world of science, it is a strong contender for being the actual longest word in, if not common use, at least very occasional use. I would imagine, though, that in any discussion where it actually crops up, a pleasant moment is shared amongst those present in appreciation of the opportunity well-taken.
One letter longer than antidisestablishmentarianism, this word is, in the opinion of this humble blogger, also cheating, as it is a joke word, probably invented by pupils at Eton College, based on a rule from their Latin textbook. It is defined as ‘the action or habit of estimating something as worthless’, because the first four prefixes, flocci, nauci, nihili, and pili, all mean ‘of little value’.
Despite this, or possibly because of this, it is the longest word ever used in the British House of Commons, by Jacob Rees-Mogg, coincidentally in 2012, the same year our friend Dmitry read out titin.
If you’re interested in long words, you may well have come across this monstrosity at some point, which describes a lung disease brought about by breathing in the dust from, for example, a volcano.
Along with titin, this word is disqualified on account of it being invented in the 1930s to imitate long medical words, and is therefore more of a game or a puzzle than a real word.
An honourable mention and immediate subsequent disqualification goes to the village on Anglesey that changed its name about 150 years ago as a Victorian publicity stunt, in order to claim the title of the longest railway station name in the British Isles. It means ‘Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of Saint Tysilio of the red cave’. Rather brilliantly, the longest domain name on the Internet is llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochuchaf.co.uk, which is even longer, and refers to a particular part of the village. It is also a password used in the wonderful 1968 film Barbarella.
So, in conclusion, after liberally casting off the pretenders to the throne, we can safely say that antidisestablishmentarianism is the rightful longest word in the world, at least in English. I’ve heard that in German, their compound nouns can mean that the word for the star on the hat of the top sailor in the navy takes up the best part of half a page, but that’s another story.
(officially the longest URL on the web!)
(officially the longest URL on the web!)
Words by Transcriber Mike D