[first posted May 29, 2004] According to Ask Oxford, from the Oxford U.P., “Most of the words which are given as ‘the longest word’ are merely inventions, and when they occur it is almost always as examples of long words, rather than as genuine examples of use” i.e. ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,’ which is supposed to be a lung disease. Of course, there are real words of extreme length. A couple good examples of these superduperlong words are ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ and ‘pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism.’ They just roll off the tongue, what?
For the trivia nerd or engineer in your family, Ask Oxford explains, “The formal names of chemical compounds are almost unlimited in length (for example, ‘aminoheptafluorocyclotetraphosphonitrile,’ 40 letters), but longer ones tend to be sprinkled with numerals, Roman and Greek letters, and other arcane symbols. Dictionary writers tend to regard such names as `verbal formulae’, rather than as English words.”