Word Play: the longest words

Next week I'm in Oxford doing a bit of filming for The One Show with my friend Susie Dent, the genius lexicographer who presides over Dictionary Corner on Countdown on Channel 4.  I've been a guest in Dictionary Corner many times - more times, I think, than anyone else.  In the early days of the programme, in the 1980s, other Dictionary Corner regulars included Ted Moult, Kenneth Williams, Derek Nimmo, Ned Sherrin and Russell Harty.  I've stories to tell about each of them, which I must get round to one day.   Meanwhile, here's a bit of word play to amuse you on your way to work - or to sleep.  

The shortest English word that contains all the vowels is eunoia. It means beautiful thinking, and I think it is a rather beautiful word.   In a recent survey, the word voted the ‘most liked’ in the language was lullaby.  Here's what I know about long words.  If I've got any of this wrong, Susie can put me right when I see her.

THE LONGEST WORDS

29 Letters

floccinaucinihilipilification

This is the longest non-technical word in The Oxford English Dictionary. It means ‘the act of estimating as worthless’ and dates from 1741.

34 Letters

supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

This is a nonsense word invented for the movie Mary Poppins (1964).  In the whole history of language, no word of more than 30 letters has ever been so widely known.

37 Letters

praetertranssubstantiationslistically

An adverb used in Mark McShane’s novel Untimely Ripped (1963)

45 Letters

pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

The longest word in The Oxford English Dictionary. It is the name of a miner’s lung disease and was deliberately coined to be the longest word in the dictionary.

100 letters

bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk

From the third paragraph of James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake (1939)

LONGEST WORDS WITH DIFFERENT LETTERS

At 15 letters each, these are the two longest words with unique letters (i.e. no letter is repeated):

uncopyrightable and dermatoglyphics

LONGEST ENGLISH WORD CONSISTING ONLY OF VOWELS

euouae

Euouae, is a medieval mnemonic used to recall the musical tones required when chanting the Gloria Patri.

It also takes the title as the English word with the most consecutive vowels.  Words with five consecutive vowels include cooeeing and queueing.

CONSONANT AFTER CONSONANT

Archchroniclercatchphraseeschscholtzia (sea snails of a sort), latchstringlengthsman and the medical term postphthisic each have six consonants in a row. 

Borschts has six consonants in a row in just one syllable.  

Words with five consecutive consonants include:

angsts,birthplacedumbstruckeighthsheartthroblengthspostscriptstrengthsthumbscrewtwelfthswarmthswitchcraft.

LONGEST WORD WITH STRICTLY ALTERNATING VOWELS AND CONSONANTS

honorificabilitudinitatibus

At 27 letters it means ‘with honorableness’.  It is also the longest word that appears in the complete works of William Shakespeare.

The longest everyday word with this unusual property is unimaginatively, with 15 letters.

 LONGEST WORD WITH ONLY ONE VOWEL

strengths

Strengths is nine letters long.  Strengthlessnesses, at eighteen letters, is the longest word in the English language with only one vowel repeated.

LONGEST WORD WITH LETTERS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER

aegilops

The word has two distinct meanings: it can be a genus of goat grass or a stye in the inner corner of an eye.

LONGEST WORD WITH LETTERS IN REVERSE ALPHABETICAL ORDER

spoonfeed

LONGEST WORD IN WHICH EACH LETTER OCCURS AT LEAST TWICE

unprosperousness

REPEAT AFTER ME

The chincherinchee is a beautiful plant found in South Africa. The word chincherinchee is the only known English word that has one letter occurring once, two letters occurring twice, and three letters occurring three times.

Ultrarevolutionaries is a word in which each of the five main vowels occurs twice.

MUSICAL WORDS

Cabbaged and fabaceae, each with eight letters, are the longest words that can be played on a musical instrument – i.e. only using the letters of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F and G.  Seven-letter words with this property include accededbaggagecabbagedefaced and effaced.

ALPHABETICALS

Aegilops, with eight letters, is the longest word whose letters are arranged in alphabetical order. Seven-letter words with this property include beefily and billowy. Six-letter words include abhorsaccentaccessalmost, biopsybijouxbillowchintz and effort.

Gyles Brandreth