Thursday, February 10, 2011

Longest Words in the English Language

When I was in high school, some of my classmates and I had a lengthy debate about what was/is the longest word in the English language. At the time, we landed on "antidisestablishmentarianism," because we decided "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" wasn't really a word. Sorry, but really, its not.

antidisestablishmentarianism: [\an-tee-dis-uh-stab-lish-muhn-tair-ee-uh-niz-uhm\]
Date: 1838
Function: Noun
: opposition to the withdrawal of state support or recognition from an established church, especially the Anglican Church in 19th-century England.

It turns out, I learned later, that at 28 letters, this word isn't the longest in English. Weighing in at a hefty1,185 letters long, the name of a tobacco virus was deemed the longest word. Are you ready? Take a deep breath and say:

acetylseryltyrosylserylisoleucylthreonylserylprolylserylglutaminylphenylalanylvalylphenylalanylleucylserylserylvalyltryptophylalanylaspartylprolylisoleucylglutamylleucylleucylasparaginylvalylcysteinylthreonylserylserylleucylglycylasparaginylglutaminylphenylalanylglutaminylthreonylglutaminylglutaminylalanylarginylthreonylthreonylglutaminylvalylglutaminylglutaminylphenylalanylserylglutaminylvalyltryptophyllysylprolylphenylalanylprolylglutaminylserylthreonylvalylarginylphenylalanylprolylglycylaspartylvalyltyrosyllysylvalyltyrosylarginyltyrosylasparaginylalanylvalylleucylaspartylprolylleucylisoleucylthreonylalanylleucylleucylglycylthreonylphenylalanylaspartylthreonylarginylasparaginylarginylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylvalylglutamylasparaginylglutaminylglutaminylserylprolylthreonylthreonylalanylglutamylthreonylleucylaspartylalanylthreonylarginylarginylvalylaspartylaspartylalanylthreonylvalylalanylisoleucylarginylserylalanylasparaginylisoleucylasparaginylleucylvalylasparaginylglutamylleucylvalylarginylglycylthreonylglycylleucyltyrosylasparaginylglutaminylasparaginylthreonylphenylalanylglutamylserylmethionylserylglycylleucylvalyltryptophylthreonylserylalanylprolylalanylserine: [Yeah right, I can't find any online sources that articulate how this word is articulated]
Date: 1964
Function: Noun
: Chemical name for the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), a positive-sense single stranded RNA virus that infects plants, especially tobacco and other members of the family Solanaceae

Then last month I found this article from NPR that explores the longest words in the English language. The usual suspects were included in the debate, mainly the three words already listed in this blog post. Then there, at the end, was a different word that is even longer than the TMV virus' chemical name. Weighing in at a whopping 1,913 characters, enter:

methionylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglutamylserylleucylphenylalanylalanylglutaminylleucyllysylglutamylarginyllysylglutamylglycylalanylphenylalanylvalylprolylphenylalanylvalylthreonylleucylglycylaspartylprolylglycylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylserylleucyllysylisoleucylaspartylthreonylleucylisoleucylglutamylalanylglycylalanylaspartylalanylleucylglutamylleucylglycylisoleucylprolylphenylalanylserylaspartylprolylleucylalanylaspartylglycylprolylthreonylisoleucylglutaminylasparaginylalanylthreonylleucylarginylalanylphenylalanylalanylalanylglycylvalylthreonylprolylalanylglutaminylcysteinylphenylalanylglutamylmethionylleucylalanylleucylisoleucylarginylglutaminyllysylhistidylprolylthreonylisoleucylprolylisoleucylglycylleucylleucylmethionyltyrosylalanylasparaginylleucylvalylphenylalanylasparaginyllysylglycylisoleucylaspartylglutamylphenylalanyltyrosylalanylglutaminylcysteinylglutamyllysylvalylglycylvalylaspartylserylvalylleucylvalylalanylaspartylvalylprolylvalylglutaminylglutamylserylalanylprolylphenylalanylarginylglutaminylalanylalanylleucylarginylhistidylasparaginylvalylalanylprolylisoleucylphenylalanylisoleucylcysteinylprolylprolylaspartylalanylaspartylaspartylaspartylleucylleucylarginylglutaminylisoleucylalanylseryltyrosylglycylarginylglycyltyrosylthreonyltyrosylleucylleucylserylarginylalanylglycylvalylthreonylglycylalanylglutamylasparaginylarginylalanylalanylleucylprolylleucylasparaginylhistidylleucylvalylalanyllysylleucyllysylglutamyltyrosylasparaginylalanylalanylprolylprolylleucylglutaminylglycylphenylalanylglycylisoleucylserylalanylprolylaspartylglutaminylvalyllysylalanylalanylisoleucylaspartylalanylglycylalanylalanylglycylalanylisoleucylserylglycylserylalanylisoleucylvalyllysylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylhistidylasparaginylisoleucylglutamylprolylglutamyllysylmethionylleucylalanylalanylleucyllysylvalylphenylalanylvalylglutaminylprolylmethionyllysylalanylalanylthreonylarginylserine: [BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I dare you to try and pronounce it]
Date: ???
Function: Noun
: Full chemical name of tryptophan synthetase A protein, which partners with tryptophan synthetase B protein to create tryptophan, an essential amino acid

While searching to find the official definitions and spellings of these words for this blog post, I found yet another word, and this one takes the cake (and is so long, it won't be printed here). Numbered at a gigantormous 189,819 characters, check out the real longest word in the English language (click the link to see the full name).

titin:  [\tit-in\]
Date: ???
Function: Noun
: the shortened name for a protein that in humans is encoded by the TTN gene; also known as connectin

But the NPR article made a really good point about whether these words are used or not. Though the full words for tryptophan synthetase A protein and titin are quite long, they haven't been published in usage. The TMV virus name, however, was published in science journals in the 1960s. Since that time, there have been bigger, longer molecules that could be words, but publications don't bother to spell them because it uses up large amounts of space and paper. And really, did anyone reading this blog post even read the words all the way through? I wrote it, and I didn't.

My further research also lead me to wonder about these "longest" words, as even linguists disagree whether they should even exist because of their highly technical nature. There are obviously shorter words that are used much more commonly in references to these nouns. Surely since it is easier to say and requires fewer breaks for breathing than its full name, titin must be thrown around much more often than the methionylthreonylthreonylglutamin-what-a-novel-of-a-word.

Also, some of the "shorter" words that are still exceptionally long are disputed. Lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimhypotrimmatosilphioparaomelitokatakechymenokichlepikossyphophattoperisteralektryonoptekephalliokigklopeleiolagoiosiraiobaphetraganopterygon is a 183 letter word that refers to a fictional dish mentioned in Aristophanes' comedy Assemblywomen, but its an English transliteration of an ancient Greek word that has never appeared in a dictionary. And pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, at 45 letters long, was actually coined specifically to serve as the longest English word and is the longest to ever appear in the dictionary. It's a lung disease that is more commonly called silicosis. But if its coined to be the longest, is that cheating?

So after all of those words are shoved to the side, either because their challenged or coined, what is left? Its 35 letters long and you're never going to guess what it means.

hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia: [\hippo-poto-mons-stro-ses-quipped-alio-phobia\]
Date: ???
Function: Noun
: The fear of long words.

Sara Duane is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities area of the great state of Minnesota.   

What's The Longest Word In The English Language?
Longest word in English


  1. osseocarnisanviscericartalaginonervomedullary and
    pneumonopultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconioys are a couple of the longest words i know.

    The longest i can type and say is lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimhypotrimmatosilphioparaomelitokatakechymenokichlepikossyphophattoperisteralektryonoptekephalliokigliopeleiolagoiosiraiobaphetraganopterygon.

  2. If you want to hear any of these long words have Google do it: click the listen icon at the bottom