If there is one thing that all writers love, it’s words. Words often come with a fascinating history or fun bits of trivia. Today, we’re paying homage to our love of words.
Have you ever wondered what the longest word in the English language is? How about the shortest palindrome? Let’s dive into some of the strangest idiosyncracies in English.
The Longest Word
It turns out that finding out the longest word is more complicated than you might think.
Technically, the longest word in existence is too long to include in this article. The word is the full chemical name for the human protein titin. It totals in at 189,819 letters, which is unfathomable. The word takes over three and a half hours to speak! If you’ve ever got a few spare hours, you can watch it here. We don’t recommend reciting this as a party trick!
The next longest word is a lot shorter. It’s the longest word to ever appear in literature. Originally, it appeared in Aristophanes’ play Assemblywoman in 391 B.C. When this huge word is translated into English, it has 182 letters and 78 syllables! It’s a made-up dish that contains all sorts of gross meats and strange ingredients. Are you ready for this?
Now, let’s talk about some other long words that are more manageable. The longest word to appear in an English dictionary is Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. It’s a medical term for a disease caused by inhaling silica particles from an erupting volcano. It’s also known as silicosis, which is less of a mouthful. This 45-letter word isn’t used much, and we can see why! It was actually coined just to be the longest word.
Pop culture is always influencing language! Mary Poppins’ famous made-up word is now considered a word by many people. It’s even in some dictionaries! Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious clocks in at 34 letters! (Admit it. You sang it, didn’t you?)
There are several other very long medical or scientific words. So, other than that catchy Disney song, what’s the longest non-medical, non-technical word?
I love this word. When I was a kid, it was fun for other children to say, “If you’re so smart, can you spell antidisestablishmentarianism?” So, I taught myself how. But what does this fancy word mean?
This 28-letter word originally meant opposition to removing government support from the Church of England. In the 1800s, there was a movement to remove the Anglican Church as the official religion in England, Ireland, and Wales. There was a vocal movement against this effort, and the word was born. Now, it can refer to the opposition to removing any government support from any religion.
The Longest One-Syllable Word
Usually, when you see a lot of letters in a word, it means there are several syllables. But this isn’t always the case. The longest word with just one syllable is squirrelled. Some linguists debate this because there are alternate spellings of the word. Depending on the dictionary, there may be fewer Rs or Ls. Have you squirrelled away that knowledge?
An isogram is a type of word that can have two meanings. Generally, it’s accepted that an isogram is a word where every letter only appears once. (In this case, isogram is an isogram!)
But in a broader sense, isogram means “equal letters.” There are second-order isograms, where each letter appears twice. “Deed” is an example of this. Other examples include “bilabial” and “intestines.”
The longest first-order isogram is subdermatoglyphic. Each of the 17 letters is only used once. This is a technical word that refers to the dermal makeup that defines our fingerprint patterns.
You might know that a palindrome is a word or phrase that is the same when spelled forward or backward. “Mom” and “Dad” are two common examples. But what are the longest and shortest palindromes?
The longest palindrome that is a single word is tattarrattat. This word was created by James Joyce in his seminal work, Ulysses. The shortest palindrome is either aa, which is a type of basalt lava, or oo, which is an extinct species of bird.
If isogram is an isogram, why isn’t palindrome a palindrome? If you spell it backward, you get emordnilap. This is a made-up type of word! Linguists might not agree on it, but there is a definition. An emordnilap is a word that makes two different words when read backward or forward. Examples include “are” and “era”, or “bard” and “drab.”
A pangram is a phrase or sentence that uses all 26 letters of the alphabet. These are useful for creating a typeface. The most familiar sentence has been used to test typing equipment since the 19th century! You’ve probably seen it if you’ve ever downloaded a new font to your computer.
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
Here are a few other fun pangrams:
- The quick onyx goblin jumps over the lazy dwarf.
- Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow.
- Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.
Is there a pangram that’s also an isogram? Yes! Although some of the words come from other languages, like Welsh.
Cwm fjord bank glyphs vex quiz.
It might sound like gibberish, but it is a sentence! It means “carved symbols in a mountain hollow on a fjord irritated an eccentric person.”
The Shortest, Oldest Word
The first-person subject pronoun I holds two important records. First, it is the shortest word in the English language, along with a. But it’s actually the oldest word in English, too!
English is a derivative language. We stole and adapted words from many other languages. But I, along with we, who, two and three, date back tens of thousands of years. This was calculated by a supercomputer and researchers from Reading University in 2009.
The Funniest Words
Everyone has words that they find funny. But researchers at the University of Warwick did a large study of the funniest English words. Two psychologists surveyed 800 people and had them rate 5,000 words. Here are the top ten funniest words:
Other contenders were: raccoon, giggle, ennui, and jingle. There were notable differences between men and women and in various age groups. What do you think is the funniest word?
Other Fun Word Facts
We could talk about fun word facts all day! But here are a few other bits of trivia about English words.
- Shakespeare added over 1,700 words to our language
- The most commonly used letter is e
- A new word is created, on average, every 98 minutes
- More words start with s than any other letter
- The average adult native speaker knows between 20,000 and 35,000 words
English might be a difficult language, but it’s also fascinating! What are some of your favorite words in English? Do you have a fun fact to share? Let us know in the comments!