Friday, December 23, 2011

Today's Word

Our word for today is floccinaucinihilipilification. May you never have to use it in a sentence. Or spell it in a spelling bee!

As you might guess, my main dude, M, helped me with this post--starting by coming up with the word in the first place. It was in a novel he's reading by a famous comedian, movie actor, and banjo player named Steve Martin. The book, which is called The Pleasure of My Company, is about a man with a bad case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. And in the story, the man actually does manage to use floccinaucinihilipilification in a sentence. This was a first for M, who had never heard of it before. He went straight to the online Oxford English Dictionary and found that it means "the action or habit of estimating something as worthless."

When he told me this, I thought that the word itself might be in need of some floccinaucinihilipilification. I mean, there are what--29 letters in it? But "estimating something as worthless," which is the main part of its definition, has only 30 letters, so you're basically saving one letter. And if you add up the syllables, floccinaucinihilipilification has 12, while "estimating something as worthless" has only nine. So which is the bigger waste of breath? I rest my case.

On our walk this evening, I asked M if our new f-word is the longest word in the dictionary. He did a quick computation and said it might be one of the longest, that it has one more letter than antidisestablishmentarianism, which was the biggest word he personally knew before today. But when we got home, we went back to the online OED and found that the biggest word it contains is this 45-letter monster: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.* According to the dictionary, this is "an artificial long word said to mean a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust."

Long? Can't argue with that! But artificial? Why not real? And "said to mean"? Said by whom? And for heaven's sake, why? It looks like some humans have forgotten (or never heard of) their own KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

*PS - While the above p-word is thought to be the longest "regular" word in the English language, the longest word of any kind found in Britain is the name of a village in Wales: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. This is usually abbreviated as Llanfair PG. Here is a picture of its railway station:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, Buddy, this is a “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” fun-with-words post!

…and informative! M’s research about super-long Welsh words explains a lot about my ancestors and relatives from Wales (and yours truly) who, bless us one and all, rarely follow that “KISS” principle.

Mary Poppins liked to say long words backwards too, like “Have a “dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirepus” Christmas”… and I hope you all do!