The Longest Words in These Languages Will Make Your Head Spin

Words So Long They Take Hours to Read

What exactly is a word? This might seem like an odd or even obvious question, but it is an important one to ask when trying to figure out what the longest words in a language are. See, some languages inherently have the ability to create absurdly long words just by stringing together a bunch of nouns, adjectives, prefixes, or suffixes. Agglutinative languages – languages like Turkish, Japanese, and Esperanto, along with many Native American languages, in which stems and suffixes can theoretically be added infinitely to the ends of words, slightly changing the meaning – are prime examples of those where writers and linguists can literally string together chains of nonsense that will be grammatically correct but have absolutely no applicable value or real use.

Another thing that makes long words a bit more complicated is the presence of technical terms: scientific, chemical, or biological terms that are necessary for technical purposes can contain tens, hundreds, or even thousands of characters. The full scientific name for the protein “titin” is the best-known example of this, having 189,819 characters in its English form (the same in French), and taking about three and a half hours to pronounce.

Generally, when looking for long words, linguists have made a couple of rules that essentially phase out those outliers, scientific and technical terms, and those words that were constructed to be long only for the sake of being long. The two main criteria that should refine our search are words that: a) are written in a dictionary, and b) are commonly or somewhat commonly used. While it can be difficult to decide whether words are common enough to be considered for the prize, we can safely assume that the second longest English word, another scientific term for a protein that comes in at a measly 1,909 characters, would be disqualified.

Let’s take a look at some of the longest words, technical and legitimate, in languages around the world.

 

 

1.      English

If we ignore the monstrous, fully expanded form of titin, we are left with a couple candidates for English’s longest word:

pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis

This is one that many consider to be the legitimate longest word in English. It’s a lung disease caused by inhaling microscopic particles, and although it has a shortened version (“silicosis”), it is both written in English, and one could be diagnosed with the disease. However, I can’t imagine any doctor would bother writing out the full term on their patient’s clipboard. (The Oxford Dictionary also lists it as a constructed word, but I digress)

 

2.      German

German is another one of those languages where stems and roots and suffixes can theoretically be infinitely stacked on top of one another until a novel-length word is produced. But for the sake of actual or common words, there are two that stick out:

Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft

This is technically a proper noun, so it might be cheating, but at 79 characters, translates to: “Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services” and is a word used in reference to a subsidiary of a shipping company in pre-war Vienna, for the company, Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft.

siebenhundertsiebenundsiebzigtausendsiebenhundertsiebenundsiebzig 

Is the official runner up, interestingly enough being just the alphabetical form of the number 777,777, as whole numbers less than a million are written as single words in German.

3.      Turkish

Turkish is an interesting example, where it is an agglutinative language but its entries for longest word are purposefully unnecessary and absurd expansions of numerous endings and tenses.

muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine

This monstrosity coming in at 70 characters has its meaning lost with a translation meaning something like: “It would seem as though you are one of those whom we may not easily be able to make into one who makes unsuccessful ones.” The word was constructed for the purpose of being the longest word, as these kinds of words often are, and was essentially used as the punch line of a weirdly linguistic anecdote.

Other similar examples take the same verb tenses and just build of Turkish’ feature of suffix stacking:

Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız = “It would seem as if you are one of those whom we were unable to turn into a Czechslovakian”

Afyonkarahisarlılaştırabildiklerimizdenmişsinizcesine = “It would seem as if you are one of those whom we were able to turn into someone from Afyonkarahisar (a city in Turkey)”.

4.      Polish

Similarly to German, Polish also has the neat characteristic of stringing together numerals to create adjectives. For example, the word dziewięćsetdziewięćdziesięciodziewięcionarodowościowego means “…of nine-hundred-ninety-nine nationalities), and the even more aggressive:

dziewięćsetdziewięćdziesiątdziewięćmiliardówdziewięćsetdziewięćdziesiątdziewięćmilion-

ówdziewięćsetdziewięćdziesiątdziewięćtysięcydziewięćsetdziewięćdziesięciodziewięcioletniego

This is a whopping 176 characters and means “999,999,999,999 years old”. However, typically the longest accepted non-numerical word:

Konstantynopolitańczykowianeczka

This might be construed as an outdated word, and most definitely not in common use outside of academics or historians, because it means “the unmarried daughter of a man from Constantinople” – Constantinople, of course, is now referred to as Istanbul.

 

5.      Greek

If using Constantinople in a word is outdated, then the longest word in Greek will be ancient history – literally. Back in the year 392 BC, famous Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote his comedy, Assemblywomen, a remarkable play about women seizing control of the government in Athens.

lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimhypotrimmatosilphioparaomelitokatakechymen-

okichlepikossyphophattoperisteralektryonoptekephalliokigklopeleiolagoiosiraiobaphetraganopterygon

The word itself is a fictional dish – “fricassee” – consisting of a combination of ingredients, including, according to Liddell-Scott-Jones, a Greek-English dictionary, “brains, honey, vinegar, fish, pickles, fish slices, fish of the Elasmobranchii subclass (shark or ray), rotted dogfish, a kind of crab, beetle, or crayfish, eagle, cheese, honey, wrasse or thrush, and topped with a sea fish or blackbird, wood pigeon, domestic pigeon, chicken, roasted head of dabchick, hare, wine, dessert, fruit, or other raw food and wing or fin.”

 

6.      Ojibwe

This language indigenous to North America in the Algonquian language family has an interesting entry into the list of longest words with its oddly specific term for a type of blueberry pie.

Miinibaashkiminasiganibiitoosijiganibadagwiingweshiganibakwezhigan

The word literally translates to “blueberry cooked to jellied preserve that lies in layers in which the face is covered in bread”, a delicious and terrifically descriptive take on this classic American dish.

 

7.      Place Names

Just a last-minute note to add, as place names technically wouldn’t count as a language’s longest word, but these lakes, towns, and geographical features are a fun tongue twister for those of you looking for a challenge:

Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu

A town in New Zealand that translates from the local language Māori to “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”. It is the longest official place name in the world.

Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch

Another town in Wales, this seemingly incomprehensible string of consonants is the longest one-word place name in Europe and translates to “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave” in Welsh.

Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

This is the name of a lake in Massachusetts, originally a Nipmuc word (a Native American language) that means “Fishing Place at the Boundaries (and) Neutral Meeting Grounds”. It’s the longest place name in the United States.

 

If these words are giving you a headache, don’t worry. You can always find the right linguist, translator, or interpreter to tackle these colloquial challenges for you at, offering high-quality translation, localization, and interpretation services and more in combinations of over 300 languages.

About the Author:

Daniel is based out of Chicago and works as a writer, editor, and translator.

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