The working vocabulary of the average 14-year-old has declined in the last 50 years from 25,000 words to 10,000. Language reflects the depth of our human experience. Because we think in words, are we losing the capacity to say what we feel? Like, whatever.
I’m going to talk to you about words, but I don’t want to drumble. Not familiar with drumble? (Neither is my writing program, because that word was underlined in red as soon as I typed it.) It’s a new verb meaning to drone, blather, or ramble on, and it was one of the more than 500 words and phrases added to the Oxford English Dictionary in June of this year. Each quarter, the OED is updated to include revised versions of current entries as well as new listings from A to Z. We like to think of all of these additions as original to the times, but some of the words we’re using today have a long-standing history.
photo by mrpolyonymous via Wikimedia Commons
For example, the recent dance move known as twerking claims its origins from the 1990s dance clubs of New Orleans, but it was actually used as a noun over 170 years ago in a letter written by Charles Clairmont (author Mary Shelley’s stepbrother): ‘Really the Germans do allow themselves such twists & twirks of the pen, that it would puzzle any one.’
Or how about choss, a specialized vocabulary word used by rock climbers and mountaineers to mean a friable, crumbly, or loose rock, typically considered unsafe or unpleasant to climb? The OED’s first citation of this word is from a letter written by Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, in 1937: “The excellent word our family used to denote the condition of our house when painters, paperers, and upholsterers were ravaging it—’choss’. We have been in a state of choss for some time, and the smell of newly painted woodwork was so bad that it gave both of us colds and bronchial coughs.”
Other trendy words added last month include crowdfund, declutter, freegan, hot mess, meh, photo bomb, retweet, SCOTUS, totes (as in totally), webisode and yarnbomb. The complete list of additions can be found at Oxford English Dictionary.
Move over, Mary Poppins, there’s a new tongue twister in town.
Sing this one out loud, sisters:
Jean-Étienne Liotard, Young Girl Singing into a Mirror, 1700s
(Need a spoonful of sugar?)
Unlike supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, floccinaucinihilipilification is a real (read: definitively definable) word. Saying it, however, is a challenge best broken into syllables.
Take a big breath and say it with me:
This rarely uttered Latin-based noun refers to an inherent lack of value. Something like, “The painting was forged by a copycat artist, so it was dismissed by the Antiques Roadshow as a floccinaucinihilipilification.”
But, the term’s primary claim to fame is its length—another one of the longest words in the English language.
Feeling pretty good about your pronunciation of floccinaucinihilipilification?
This post is extremely hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian. (In other words, it’s all about really, really long words.)
So what’s the longest word in the English language?
Is it supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? (34 letters) Well, no. This word—meaning extraordinarily good or wonderful—was actually made up by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, co-writers of songs for the musical Mary Poppins in 1964. The brothers pulled the word from their memories of creating double-talk words in their childhood. Due to the popularity of the movie and its songs, the word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986.
Mary Poppins via Wikimedia Commons
The current longest word in any major English dictionary is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis (45 letters). Pneumonia? Microscopic? Volcanoes? Well, pretty much. It’s a lung disease contracted from the inhalation of very fine silica particles, specifically from a volcano.
But if you’re looking for truly hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian words, here’s one that’s bound to astound:
“51 letters!” you exclaim. Not so fast. You know those three little dots called ellipses? Well, we know they represent some kind of omission, in this case, 189,768 more letters! Yep, this word, the chemical name for the human protein titin (a very short word for the largest known protein), is a total of 189,819 letters, and takes about three-and-a-half hours to pronounce!
All proceeds (minus shipping and packing) will benefit www.firstbook.org, a non-profit that provides new books to children from low-income families throughout the U.S. and Canada.
MaryJane will post a photo of the prop and its cost here along with a few details as to its condition. The first person to call the farm and talk with Brian, 208-882-6819, becomes the new owner of a little bit of herstory. Shipping will be either USPS or UPS, our choice. No returns.