Given this trend toward reduced spelling, it is always a surprise when somebody asks me, “What is the longest word in the English language?” People who have never used a three syllable word in their lives seem to have an extraordinary curiosity about long words.
The answer to the question is this: “There isn’t one.” Or maybe: “A new one appears every day.” I can say this because research scientists and chemists are constantly arranging elements into new compounds, and they have to give each new compound a name. The name is usually just a string of ingredients. For example, the technical word that starts with methionylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglu… has 1,909 letters! And I have not the faintest idea what it is.
Many of these extremely long words were deliberately coined to be long words. Supercalifagilisticexpialidocious, which has 34 letters was coined by Robert and Richard Sherman for Mary Poppins, and has no meaning whatsoever. It’s just fun to say. Another word, floccinaucinihilipilification, has 29 letters and is supposed to mean the action of estimating something as worthless.
The well known antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters) is, on the other hand, an actual word. It has 28 letters and is all about Church and State. I think I am a disestablishmentarianist.
Even Shakespeare managed to slip a giant of a word into Love’s Labour’s Lost, in Act V. The comic Costard uses honorificabilitudinitatibus to insult the pedantic schoolmaster Holofernes and his friend Sir Nathanial. It is the longest word in the English language that has alternating consonants and vowels. Shakespeare only used it once. Once was enough!