The longest word I ever pronounced in earnest, although not without difficulty but in one breath, looked approximately like this (I added dashes for clarity): sextum-secus-rhetro-sternum-cleido-mostur-dem-gruber, and sounded funny in heavily Russian-accented Latin. Supposedly, this is the name of some small bone in human body. Or maybe not, and it was a joke.

Our professor of anatomy swore to us that his university professor of anatomy, who studied in Vienna and debated over the cup of coffee with Sigmund Freud, used to hold a tiny bone in front of his students’ faces, and then toss it into the air. Before he could catch it, the student had to give a full Latin name of the blasted bone. The Freud’s friend professor was hard of hearing and, taking a full advantage of it, his students mumbled something that sounded appropriately Latin, like monster-dentum-inter-dem-sphincter-et-vertebra-prominens and got away with it.

Latin and Russian languages aren’t known for their love of extra-long words. English has more, but Americans developed virtual Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia – the fear of long words, and shorten rather than elongate their words.

ShakespeareShakespeare usually does not use any other words over 17 letters in length. Except once, in Love’s Labor’s Lost (Costard; Act V, Scene I):

O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words.
I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word;
for thou art not so long by the head as
honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier
swallowed than a flap-dragon.

The word honorificabilitudinitatibus first appeared in English in 1599, and Bailey’s Dictionary listed it as the longest word in English.

But then, there is German with its love of stringing’em words up. Skip this if you are a native German speaker – there is nothing new or amusing here for you, guys.

German term for compound words is Bandwurmwörter, which is itself a compound word, meaning “tapeworm words”.

Mark Twain had lots of fun with it in The Awful German Language, calling long words “… grand mountain ranges …stretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennobles that literary landscape — but at the same time it is a great distress to the new student, for it blocks up his way; he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it, or tunnel through it…” 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Some of Mark Twain’s favorites:

Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen — seems to be “General-statesrepresentativesmeetings,” M. Twain surmises.

Kinderbewahrungsanstalten — Child-care institution?

Unabhängigkeitserklärungen — Declarations of independence.

Waffenstillstandsunterhandlungen — Armistice negotiations.

Mark Twain didn’t live to see (or try to pronounce) the champion of them all, German compound words: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, a 63-letter monster, which means “the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labeling of beef”. It was introduced in 1999 during the BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis in Europe. To ease the usage, it was given the abbreviation RkReÜAÜG – which was itself unpronounceable.

The longest authentic word in German usage at the time, it was dethroned after 8 years by Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung – “regulation governing the delegation of authority pertaining to land conveyance permissions”, the word that was itself ditched in 2007.

Now the celebrated as the longest word in the German tongue word Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz is gone. The reason? It’s no longer necessary because the EU halted BSE-testing.

Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung – “motor vehicle indemnity insurance” is the king, after all being said.

Taumatawhakatangjjihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu is the longest-named place in the world, given to a New Zealand hill by the Maoris. (They must be smoking something really good there, in New Zeland, says I).

And, to the collection,  Llan­fair­pwll­gwyn­gyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llanty­silio­gogo­goch is a town in North Wales. The name roughly translates as: St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave. It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.Capture1

A DNA molecule could have a name of over 1,000,000,000 letters if it was written out in full.

SMILES is the longest word because there is a MILE between the first and last letters! This one is 2 miles long!

SMILES is the longest word because there is a MILE between the first and last letters! This one is 2 miles long!


3 comments on “Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

    • Cut and Paste mostly. MS spellchecker does not recognize any of those words no matter how you spell them. Curiously, Google translate sometimes refuses to “un-tape-worm” and translate German words of excessive length, but has no problem with “moderately” long ones, such as, say,
      Stadtverordnetenversammlungen – City Council meeting.
      Mark Twain had no such luxury – most dictionaries wouldn’t bother with “tapeworms”. He had to break them up, translate word by word, slap them together and then make sense of them.

  1. Pingback: The Longest German Words Ever | Deutschkurs Blog Berlin

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