The longest known English word

Posted on Tue 13 Jun 2017 @ 9.00pm UTC

IT’S POINTLESS to bicker over which word in English has the most number of letters because it isn’t a straightforward matter.

Antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters) is still regarded as the longest common word in the English language — ‘common’ in terms of being (a) non-scientific, (b) non-coined deliberately for longness, and (c) non-Latin/non-Greek in substantive form (such as “honorificabilitudinitatibus,” the longest word in Shakespeare’s works).

Antidisestablishmentarianism (“anti-disus-tab’lish-mentair-ree’un-nism”) was the word we schoolkids in the UK over 40 years ago were taught as the longest non-technical English word. The word crops up for us in Church of England contexts — yet frankly, I cannot see how it could be ‘non-technical.’

The thing is, “the longest word” status in English is kind of artificial since long words tend not to be in general circulation anyway. That kind of rules out “antidisestablishmentarianism,” which is rarely encountered even in religion-related matters now.

That means three entirely non-technical words in general circulation are the practical longest common English words:—

  • deinstitutionalisation — 22 letters [1]
  • counterrevolutionaries — 22 letters [1]
  • uncharacteristically — 20 letters [2]

[1] According to A. Ross Eckler’s Making the Alphabet Dance: Recreational Wordplay (London: St. Martin’s Press/Griffin/Macmillan, 1996).

[2] Via a computer study done by P.C.B. Maltron Ltd in 2002: Longest Common Words — Modern.

For my money, I’d settle on “uncharacteristically being the longest since even the other two are still marginally technical and less frequent.

And the word Titin (‘tie-t’n’) in the featured image doesn’t count — it’s a scientific word.

Yer pays yer money, yer picks yer goods.

© Learn English or Starve, 13 Jun 2017. (B17072)

Featured image by (via PinsDaddy)

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