Sure, there’s pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. I learned that in 5th grade. But that’s a compound word. And a very contrived one at that, not actually used to refer to the disease that normally goes by the term silicosis. Ah, isn’t that refreshing? To make an Orwellian paring down to a smaller word that’s just as sufficient?
How about the longest word in the English language that might be used in any given day or at least is not a compound word. What would that be?
This is a slightly more difficult answer to come up with (and try it for and old language like Latin!) because of our fascination with the contrived and unpragmatic. Everyone just starts talking about volcanic diseases and descriptions of proteins that take 3 hours to recite. (Yes, this is how unhelpful the internet can be even in the 10s.) What about non-compound words? Well, there is a Wikipedia article on the longest single syllable words in English. What if it has more than one syllable but isn’t a compound word? I haven’t found an explicit answer, so, alas, a derived version of such a one syllable word will have to do for now.
The longest word in the English language, not made up about Smurfs:
Strength is a noun, which can be made into the verb strengthen, and then in the past tense it would be strengthened. Both bound morphemes on a very cluster heavy syllable. (I’m sure Polish has a heavier.) And because we’re concerned about sounds rather than letters (what does that even signify except a tortured history for the poor word), the word’s syllable structure is: CCCCVC.CSC [stʃɹɛŋ.θn̩d]. (Where to break the syllables, before or after the dental fricative is of course up for debate.) Four consonants—count them, four!—a vowel, two consonants, a syllabic consonant (for bonus points), and a final consonant. That’s nine segments total.
That’s a mouthful for many people around the world.
Speaking of mouthfuls for even our linguistic next of kin (OK, half-kin. You win Normans!), honorable mentions are:
- strengths [stʃɹɛŋθs] CCCCVCCC, longest single syllable word, 8 segments, initial 4 segment cluster
- scrunched [skɹʌntʃt] CCCVCCCC, 8 segments, final 4 segment cluster
- squirreled [skwɚld] CCCVCC, as in she squirreled around the table
- schmaltzed [ʃmɑʟtst] CCVCCCC, technically English meaning ‘imparted a sentimental atmosphere to’, I guess compare to schmoozed [ʃmuzd] (only 5 segments) being a word we consider to be fully adopted into English
So, turns out the longest word is the strongest word!
- List of the Longest English Words with One Syllable on Wikipedia
- Longest Word in English on Wikipedia