Monday, October 11, 2010

Do We Really Need Long Words?

Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all. - Winston Churchill

Many years ago (the exact number is not important) when I was in school, I used to be a good speller. With the advent of the computer, my spelling skills have become pathetic. There are times I mangle a word so severely that spell checker is even at a loss for suggestions as to what I might be trying to say.

The more letters a word has, the more opportunity I have to misspell or mispronounce it, so I tend to use shorter words. However, words with many letters still fascinate me, so when I saw the article, “The 11 Longest Words in the English Language” in the Huffington Post, it grabbed my attention.

The longest word is 189,819 letters. It’s the chemical name of titin, the largest known protein. I’m not going to print it. With all those letters, I’m sure I’d make a typo or two (not that anyone would notice) and it isn’t a word I can imagine anyone dropping during a casual conversation. I do wonder, however, if there are any sadistic teachers who put this word on an exam and mark off for spelling.

Here are a few of my favorites from the article that roll off the tongue

Honorificabilitudinitatibus n. (27 letters) - the state of being able to achieve honors. The longest word Shakespeare ever used and the longest word in the English language with alternating consonants and vowels.

Floccinaucinihilipilification n. (29 letters) - the estimation of something as valueless.

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian adj. (30 letters) of or pertaining to extremely long words.

Asseocarnisanguineoviscericartilaginonervomedullary adj. (51 letters) - used to describe the structure of the entire human body. (Note: The definition has fewer letters than the word, so why use the word?)

Aequeosalinocalcalinosetaceoaluminosocupreovitriolic adj. (52 letters) - used to describe the spa waters at Bath, England. (Note: I don’t know if this is a good description or bad, but I think I’d keep out of the water.)

Speaking of words, Hart Johnson of Confessions of a Watery Tart, awarded me with the Literacy Builder Award. Though I feel undeserving of this award, I’m truly flattered. If you haven’t visited Hart, you don’t know the fun you’re missing. She has a love of words and it shows in her blogs.

I’m expected to pass this award along, but I notice it’s already displayed by the blogs I visit (because I visit such high quality bloggers). The other thing I’m supposed to do is list five favorite words. I jotted down the five that jumped into my mind first, although there are many more I could add.

Grandma (when voiced by my grandson)
Superfluous
Pique
Serendipity

Scrumptious

What are your favorite words? What do you think of long words?

Thank you for stopping by today. I hope to see you again next Monday.

20 comments:

Elisabeth said...

I prefer words with certain meanings and maybe a touch of onomatopoeia.

The length of words matters less to me, Jane, than their rhythm and the way they sit together with other words to form sentences.

Your favourite words listed here are lovely.

I fear I have too many favourite words to list.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

My son just last week had to do something for school involving long words! I remember being really interested in the topic when I was a kid. But I'm with your commenter, Elisabeth--the sound of the words is what is most fun to me. And right now I can't seem to conjure up my favorites, but when I hear them, I savor them. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

The length of a word is never an issue for me. Whether people will understand it is another. There was a time when we never knew any words and we should never get to the end of learning new words but they should be useful words. I gave a character in a novel wind simply so I could use the word ‘borborygmia’ to describe the noises his bowel was making. In another I used the word ‘jactitating’ to describe the movement of a pair of breasts and again I wrote the scene around the word. As for favourite words – I like ‘flux’ and ‘osmosis’ and probably quite a few more but those are the only two that jump to mind.

The Old Silly said...

Wow - those are some looooooong words! LOL I have been adivsed by more than one good editor during my writing career that, "if a small word works just as well as the bigger word, use the small word."

Anotherwords, don't just go showing off your vocabulary - but if the bigger word is needed for better clarity, then your vocab comes into useful play.

Works for me.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Elisabeth, “…their rhythm and the way they sit together with other words…” is what writing is all about and you expressed it so well. Thanks.

Elizabeth, I agree that the sounds of words are important and that’s why I need to at least be able to pronounce them even if I can’t spell them.

Jim, I like the idea of building a scene around a word and those are two good words I haven’t heard before. Thanks for sharing.

Marvin, good advice. I think Mark Twain said something being paid the same for writing a long word as a short word so he’d only use the short word.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

We have two words in common. Well, we have Serendipity in common, and I had Mamma which is nearly the same as yours.

And yes, spell check has helped make bad spellers out of all of us, which is why I prefer to use small words that I do get right.

Congratulations on the Award- richly deserved.

Joanne said...

Wow, amazing lingo going on over here! I think that the simpler the words, and the writing, often the more effective it is.

One of my favorite words? Coffee :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I can do without most long words. I like pique, too. One syllable - LOL.

Hart Johnson said...

I really LOVE long words that are amalgamations of a bunch of words (or a few, plus prefixes and suffixes)--if it isn't hard to tell what it means, it's just fun (I love how the Dutch do that in their speaking).

That said--these words don't have much place in... say a good book. I think when the goal is communication, rather than just fun, the big words are maybe best left OUT (or used tongue in cheek to make a point about pompous characters--there I can support it...)

Darcia Helle said...

I can't even begin to imagine a word with more than 189,000 letters. How would you even begin to pronounce it? I'm still struggling to figure out the one you posted with 52 letters! I'll stick with words of a reasonable length that flow nicely and don't make me feel like I'm trying to do gymnastics with my tongue!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Antidisestablishmentarianism! Always dug that word.
I try not to use the big words when I write though.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Rayna, I love how we live in opposite parts of the globe, but still have so much in common.

Joanne, coffee is certainly a good word, especially when paired with chocolate.

Carol, I like the way pique sounds and that its two meanings are contradictory.

Hart, I lived in the Netherlands for a while and agree that they have some great words. Unfortunately my pronunciation didn’t do them justice.

Darcia, I didn’t have much luck pronouncing any of those words. I can get tongue tied just saying dog and cat.

Alex, I’ve always liked saying that word, though the opportunities to use it in conversation are limited.

KK Brees said...

Wow. That. was. complicated. Intriguing post, Jane. Nice to be a follower and thanks for the nice words on Pat's blog today.

Arlee Bird said...

That is so cool that we wrote about similar topics today. I am in good company. I can't imagine those long words that you cited having been used more than a few times in history and when used it was mostly in the context of talking about them being long.

I think "serendipity" is one of the overall most popular words appearing on these lists. It's a favorite of mine as well.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Helen Ginger said...

I prefer words I can pronounce and others can understand. There are some that are fun to say, like supercalifragilistiexpialidocious (probably didn't spell that right).

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Thanks, Karen. Your book sounds interesting and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Lee, great minds think alike:) Maybe serendipity is such a popular word with writers for the way it sounds and its meaning as we do have to depend on it for some plots to make sense.

Helen, it looks rights to me. Also it’s the way that fun word sounds that’s important, not the spelling.

Helen Ginger said...

Ooh, I like scrumptious. That's a not-often-used word that sounds like what it means.

Those are really long words. Thankfully, I'll never have to learn how to spell them.

DazyDayWriter said...

You really are a literacy builder, Jane. Your blog posts are lovely examples of sharing worthwhile information about the world of words, books, and readers. Long words, well, they're okay if needed, and as for favorite words, I'll offer 2: wonder and curiosity. (did I spell that correctly?!) Thanks and hope to see you soon somewhere in cyberspace. Daisy @ SunnyRoomStudio

Grammy said...

Jane, I love words, I love to wrap them around one another and I absolutely am in love with puns. When I read or when I hear people telling me something, I picture them in my mind and often see what they are saying in different words than what they are speaking. I am always thinking of something funny that they are not saying, but using a different meaning of the words. Ha. Am I weird? Maybe a little. Ha ha.
Ruby

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this link, but argg it seems to be down... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please answer to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at janekennedysutton.blogspot.com could post it.

Thanks,
Thomas

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world