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The identity of the longest word in English depends upon the definition of what constitutes a word in the English language, as well as how length should be compared. In addition to words derived naturally from the language's roots (without any known intentional invention), English allows new words to be formed by coinage and construction; place names may be considered words; technical terms may be arbitrarily long. Length may be understood in terms of orthography and number of written letters, or (less commonly) phonology and the number of phonemes.
|Methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl...isoleucine||189,819||Chemical name of titin, the largest known protein||Technical; not in dictionary; disputed whether it is a word|
|Methionylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglutamyl...serine||1,909||Longest published word||Technical|
|Lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsano...pterygon||183||Longest word coined by a major author, the longest word ever to appear in literature.||Coined; not in dictionary; Ancient Greek transliteration|
|Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis||45||Longest word in a major dictionary||Technical; coined to be the longest word|
|Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious||34||Famous for being created for the Mary Poppins film and musical||Coined|
|Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism||30||Longest non-coined word in a major dictionary||Technical|
|Floccinaucinihilipilification||29||Longest unchallenged nontechnical word||Coined|
|Antidisestablishmentarianism||28||Longest non-coined and nontechnical word|
|Honorificabilitudinitatibus||27||Longest word in Shakespeare's works; longest word in the English language featuring alternating consonants and vowels.||Latin|
The longest word in any of the major English language dictionaries is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, a word that refers to a lung disease contracted from the inhalation of very fine silica particles, specifically from a volcano; medically, it is the same as silicosis. The word was deliberately coined to be the longest word in English, and has since been used in a close approximation of its originally intended meaning, lending at least some degree of validity to its claim.
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary does not contain antidisestablishmentarianism, as the editors found no widespread, sustained usage of the word in its original meaning. The longest word in that dictionary is electroencephalographically (27 letters).
The longest non-technical word in major dictionaries is floccinaucinihilipilification at 29 letters. Consisting of a series of Latin words meaning "nothing" and defined as "the act of estimating something as worthless"; its usage has been recorded as far back as 1741.
Ross Eckler has noted that most of the longest English words are not likely to occur in general text, meaning non-technical present-day text seen by casual readers, in which the author did not specifically intend to use an unusually long word. According to Eckler, the longest words likely to be encountered in general text are deinstitutionalization and counterrevolutionaries, with 22 letters each.
A computer study of over a million samples of normal English prose found that the longest word one is likely to encounter on an everyday basis is uncharacteristically, at 20 letters.
The words Internationalization and localization are abbreviated "i18n" and "l10n", respectively, the embedded number representing the number of letters between the first and the last.
In his play Assemblywomen (Ecclesiazousae), the ancient Greek comedic playwright Aristophanes created a word of 171 letters (183 in the transliteration below), which describes a dish by stringing together its ingredients:
James Joyce made up nine 100-letter words plus one 101-letter word in his novel Finnegans Wake, the most famous of which is Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk. Appearing on the first page, it allegedly represents the symbolic thunderclap associated with the fall of Adam and Eve. As it appears nowhere else except in reference to this passage, it is generally not accepted as a real word. Sylvia Plath made mention of it in her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, when the protagonist was reading Finnegans Wake.
"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", the 34-letter title of a song from the movie Mary Poppins, does appear in several dictionaries, but only as a proper noun defined in reference to the song title. The attributed meaning is "a word that you say when you don't know what to say." The idea and invention of the word is credited to songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman.
The English language permits the legitimate extension of existing words to serve new purposes by the addition of prefixes and suffixes. This is sometimes referred to as agglutinative construction. This process can create arbitrarily long words: for example, the prefixes pseudo (false, spurious) and anti (against, opposed to) can be added as many times as desired. A word like anti-aircraft (pertaining to the defense against aircraft) is easily extended to anti-anti-aircraft (pertaining to counteracting the defense against aircraft, a legitimate concept) and can from there be prefixed with an endless stream of "anti-"s, each time creating a new level of counteraction. More familiarly, the addition of numerous "great"s to a relative, e.g. great-great-great-grandfather, can produce words of arbitrary length. In musical notation, a 1/1024th note may be called a semihemidemisemihemidemisemihemidemisemiquaver.
A number of scientific naming schemes can be used to generate arbitrarily long words.
The IUPAC nomenclature for organic chemical compounds is open-ended, giving rise to the 189,819-letter chemical name Methionylthreonylthreonyl...isoleucine for the protein also known as titin, which is involved in striated muscle formation. In nature, DNA molecules can be much bigger than protein molecules and therefore potentially be referred to with much longer chemical names. For example, the wheat chromosome 3B contains almost 1 billion base pairs, so the sequence of one of its strands, if written out in full like Adenilyladenilylguanilylcystidylthymidyl..., would be about 8 billion letters long. The longest published word, Acetylseryltyrosylseryliso...serine, referring to the coat protein of a certain strain of tobacco mosaic virus, was 1,185-letters long, and appeared in the American Chemical Society's Chemical Abstracts Service in 1964 and 1966. In 1965, the Chemical Abstracts Service overhauled its naming system and started discouraging excessively long names.
John Horton Conway and Landon Curt Noll developed an open-ended system for naming powers of 10, in which one sexmilliaquingentsexagintillion, coming from the Latin name for 6560, is the name for 103(6560+1) = 1019683. Under the long number scale, it would be 106(6560) = 1039360.
Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus loricatobaicalensis is sometimes cited as the longest binomial name—it is a kind of amphipod. However, this name, proposed by B. Dybowski, was invalidated by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.
Aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic, at 52 letters, describing the spa waters at Bath, England, is attributed to Dr. Edward Strother (1675–1737). The word is composed of the following elements:
There is some debate as to whether a place name is a legitimate word.
The longest officially recognized place name in an English-speaking country is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu (85 letters), which is a hill in New Zealand. The name is in the Māori language.
In Canada, the longest place name is Dysart, Dudley, Harcourt, Guilford, Harburn, Bruton, Havelock, Eyre and Clyde, a township in Ontario, at 61 letters or 68 non-space characters.
The 58-letter name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the name of a town on Anglesey, an island of Wales. In terms of the traditional Welsh alphabet, the name is only 51 letters long, as certain digraphs in Welsh are considered as single letters, for instance ll, ng and ch. It is generally agreed, however, that this invented name, adopted in the mid-19th century, was contrived solely to be the longest name of any town in Britain. The official name of the place is Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, commonly abbreviated to Llanfairpwll or Llanfair PG.
The longest place name in the United States (45 letters) is Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, a lake in Webster, Massachusetts. It means "Fishing Place at the Boundaries – Neutral Meeting Grounds" and is sometimes facetiously translated as "you fish your side of the water, I fish my side of the water, nobody fishes the middle". The lake is also known as Lake Webster. The longest hyphenated names in the U.S. are Winchester-on-the-Severn, a town in Maryland, and Washington-on-the-Brazos, a notable place in Texas history.
In Ireland, the longest English placename at 22 letters is Muckanaghederdauhaulia (from the Irish language, Muiceanach Idir Dhá Sháile, meaning "pig-marsh between two saltwater inlets") in County Galway. If this is disallowed for being derived from Irish, or not a town, the longest at 19 letters is Newtownmountkennedy in County Wicklow.
Long birth names are often coined in protest of naming laws or for other personal reasons.
Smiles, according to an old riddle, may be considered the longest word in English, as there is a mile between the first and last letter. A retort asserts that beleaguered is longer still, since it contains a league. The riddle and both jocular answers date from the 19th century.