A brief tour of the world’s longest words

In 6th grade, my algebra teacher wrote a word on the board, one that I would spend the rest of my life trying to explain to my family and friends: floccinaucinihilipilification. “What does this mean?” he asked, prompting dozens of kids around the room to stare at the board with an uncomfortable mix of confusion and dread. (“Am I supposed to know the answer? WILL THIS BE ON THE TEST?”) I was not so much interested in the actual definition (“the estimation of something as worthless”) as I was in the sheer number of letters the word contained. Maybe it’s the English major in me but any word that possesses more than 15 letters immediately grabs my attention. While I know plenty of long English words thanks to my determination to win the imaginary spelling bee that I perpetually envision inside my head, my knowledge of long foreign words is lacking. If I’m ever to become the Internet’s unofficial word queen, I’m going to need to know a lot more than floccinaucinihilipilification. This lead me to an investigation of the longest words in a handful of languages. Here’s what I found:

English: Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

Before we launch into the longest words of other languages, let’s take a look at the longest English word. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, pronounced (take a deep breath) “noo-muh-noh-uhl-truh-mahy-kruh-skop-ik-sil-i-koh-vol-key-noh-koh-nee-oh-sis,” is a technical word describing a disease caused by the inhalation of silica dust. It’s probably the same noise you make when you start coughing after you inhale said dust but I haven’t tested it out so it’s just a theory.

Spanish: superextraordinarísimamente

Meaning “super extraordinarily,” this word claims the title of “longest Spanish word” if you ignore the fact that it contains two superlatives (“super” and “extra”) and is thus gramatically incorrect. If you’re nit-picky about that sort of thing, though, the next contender would be electroencefalografistas, which means “electroencephalograph technicians,” the electroencephalograph being the device that measures electrical activity along the scalp. But I don’t need to explain that to you, because that’s practically common knowledge.

French: anticonstitutionnellement

Anticonstitutionnellement, meaning “anticonstitutionally” or “in an anticonstitutional manner,” earns the top spot for the French. How often “anticonstitutionally” is actually used, I don’t know, but I can almost guarantee that it’s used more often than electroencephalograph technicians. I’d also provide a pronunciation guide, but French confuses me normally (I said “rendezvous” as “ron-dez-voo” for a few years before someone finally corrected me) so I’m not going to attempt this word.

German: donau­dampfschiffahrts­elektrizitäten­haupt­betriebs­werkbau­unterbeamten­gesellschaft

As always when it comes to long words, Germany doesn’t disappoint. Topping the list is donau­dampfschiffahrts­elektrizitäten­haupt­betriebs­werkbau­unterbeamten­gesellschaft, which, contrary to how it may appear, is not a result of just slamming your face onto the keyboard. (Please do not try to prove me wrong. I don’t want to be responsible for any broken computers or noses.) It is a proper noun meaning the “Association for Subordinate Officials of the Head Office Management of the Danube Steamboat Electrical Services” and it boasts a whopping 79 letters, making it the longest word on this list but anyone familiar with the German language would not be surprised.

Icelandic: vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur

A few weeks ago, I investigated what the most beautiful words in the Icelandic language were, to the dismay of Icelandic people everywhere (I assume). Although the tails on half of the characters make my brain hurt, I still appreciate the language’s vast creativity. It should not be a surprise then that their longest word has one of the most oddly specific definitions I’ve ever seen. At roughly 64 letters, vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur describes “a ring on a key chain for the main door of a tool storage shed used by road workers on (the hill) Vaðlaheiði.” I’m serious. With that in mind, I propose we invent a word for “the itch on the small of your back that you can’t reach that inconveniently appears every time you get your hair cut and they tie the oversized bib around your neck preventing your hands from moving” because it’s incredibly relevant to everyday life and I’m tired of spending three sentences trying to describe it when I could easily explain the phenomena with one extremely long word.

Finnish: lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas

Good ol’ Finnish never disappoints. This 61 character word describes “a technical warrant officer trainee specialized in aircraft jet engines” and has actually been used by the Finnish Air Force, meaning it’s more than just a fun fact that you can whip out at parties to impress that one European-looking guy in the corner who you think might be Finnish? Maybe? It’s worth a shot because if you say it and he’s not Finnish, he automatically will think you are, so it’s really a win-win either way.

Estonian: sünnipäevanädalalõpupeopärastlõunaväsimus

With the best definition on this list, sünnipäevanädalalõpupeopärastlõunaväsimus refers to that feeling you get during a birthday party on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon where you want to collapse out of exhaustion. If you’re thinking of learning Estonian, this is probably a good place to start. Or maybe like “hello” or something. It depends on how much you want to challenge yourself.

Featured image via Blogspot.com.