Looks like a simple topic, doesn’t it? Well, not for nothing do people say “don’t judge a book by its cover”: appearances can be deceptive.
If we simply took the longest word from any language, in most cases (if not all) it would be some kind of chemical compound, which 90% of people have never even heard about. Before we start looking for the longest words, we have to set some criteria.
First, let’s exclude chemical compounds from the list. Another factor is the diversity of languages. Some languages teem with long words – mainly agglutinative languages. The expression agglutinative comes from the Latin agglutinare, i.e. to glue together. So in agglutinative languages the words are glued together. New grammatical forms and often new words are created by adding unchanging monosemantic suffixes to word stems, or by gluing multiple words together. These languages usually have longer words than others. But if we just connect words recklessly, we only end up with a word which may exist in theory but has no use in language practice. Thus, the last rule we’ll set is that all the words have to be usable in everyday communication.
Let’s sum up the rules in short:
1. the word cannot be a chemical compound and
2. it has to be usable in the language practice.
Let’s look at the words which are still in.
The longest words in Germanic languages
Let’s begin with one of the most popular languages: English. Maybe you have already heard of the allegedly longest word antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters), but we have to disappoint you: according to lexicographers responsible for the prestigious Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word is not used in language practice, ergo does not follow our rules. Instead, they state electroencephalographically (27 letters) as the longest word. In language practice, the word may be used as follows:„Have you examined the patient electroencephalographically?“.
Long words are typical for German. In this language, new words are often created by joining multiple words. According to our rules, first place goes to the word Telekommunikationskundenschutzverordnung (40 letters), which means telecommunication customer security regulation.
There is a similar number of letters in the Dutch word ontwikkelingssamenwerkingsorganisatie (37 letters) which means cooperation development organisation.
Long words may also be found in Nordic languages. The Norwegian language boasts the word menneskerettighetsorganisasjon (30 letters), which needs 3 words to translate: human rights organisation.
It is similar to the longest word in Swedish, realisationsvinstbeskattning (28 letters), where we also need to use 3 words: capital gains tax.
In the Danish dictionary, there is no rival to the word speciallægepraksisplanlægningsstabiliseringsperiode (51 letters), but this doesn’t follow our rules, since we can’t say it’s used in daily communication. The first place belongs to a shorter word, ejendomsserviceassistentuddannelsen (35 letters), which has a practical use and means real estate sales assistant training.
The longest words in Slavic languages
Moving on, we’ll continue with our native Slovak language and that of our closest neighbours. Slovak and Czech are very similar: in Slovak najneobhospodárovateľnejší (26 letters) takes first place, and in Czech nejneobhospodařovávatelnější (28 letters). Both words mean the most uncultivable.
The longest word in Polish is considered to be Konstantynopolitańczykowianeczka (32 letters) which means the single daughter of a Constantinople resident. But since Constantinople no longer exists, this word doesn’t follow our language practice rule. Therefore the prize goes to the shorter word prawicowonacjonalistyczny (25 letters), which means right-wing nationalistic.
Among all the Slavic languages we can also learn some other longest words. In the language of a popular summer holiday destination – Croatian– first place goes to prijestolonasljednikovica (25 letters), translated as heiress to the throne.
Croatia’s neighbouring country of Slovenia has nothing to be ashamed of, boasting a word one letter longer: dialektičnomaterialističen (26 letters), which translates from Slovenian as dialectical-materialistic.
The last of the Slavic languages on our list is Bulgarian. The longest word they can brag about is Непротивоконституционствувателствувайте (39 letters) which means Do not act against the constitution!
The longest words in Romance languages
Let’s move on to warmer climates and have a look at Romance languages. The longest word in Spanish comes from the medical environment: electroencefalografista (23 letters), which means health worker who works the electroencephalogram, i.e. the machine for brain imaging.
In Italian, the longest word comes from a totally different field: precipitevolissimevolmente(26 letters). It’s an adverb, which in English means very fast or swiftly.
Portuguese and French used to share the longest word in the past, which can be translated as unconstitutionally. The word in Portuguese is anticonstitucionalissimamente (29 letters) and in French anticonstitutionellement (24 letters). But recently, the French Académie française institute of linguistics codified a new word, which is a bit longer. The longest word in French is now intergouvernementalisation (26 letters), expressing a transfer of an issue to the international level.
The longest words in Baltic languages
Our next stop is by the Baltic sea, more specifically in Latvia and Lithuania. The longest Latvian word is pretpulksteņrādītājvirziens (27 letters), which may be translated as counterclockwise.
The longest word in Lithuanian is also very strange. It is the grammatical form nebeprisikiškiakopūsteliaudavome (32 letters), derived from the verb nebeprisikiškiakopūsteliauti, expressing past tense and the iterative aspect. The basic form of the verb means not to pick up oxalis anymore.
The longest words in Uralic and Altaic languages
Up to now, we were dealing with languages from the Indo-European language family. It’s the most widespread language family in the world, and its languages probably evolved from the original language of Proto-Indo-European. But we also have at our disposal two representatives of the Uralic and one representative of the Altaic language families.
Among Uralic languages, Hungarian and Estonian can take pride in exceptionally long words. In Hungarian first place goes to the expression folyamatellenőrzésiügyosztályvezetőhelyettesképesítésvizsgálat (62 letters), translated as expertise examination of deputy manager of the process management department.
A somewhat shorter but still very long word comes from Estonian: sünnipäevanädalalõpupeopärastlõunaväsimatus (43 letters). This very specific word could be described as a Sunday evening filled with energy after a weekend birthday party.
Turkish represents the Altaic family, and its longest word is ademimerkeziyetçilik (20 letters), meaning decentralization.
Icing on the cake
Let’s ditch the rules, and imagine the longest word in the whole world. Perhaps it won’t come as a surprise that it’s the chemical name of a giant protein that’s part of muscle fibres. But if you have enough time you can read it, or at least look at it, at this link. This name consists of 189,819 letters, and for obvious reasons, we cannot write the entire name here.
Fortunately, this protein also has a shorter and easier name: titin.
Do you know the longest words in other languages? Share them with us in the comments.
The profession attracted my attention for the first time after reading an interview with the translator of Harry Potter when I was only ten years old. Naturally, back then I had no idea I would become a translator myself one day. But as the years went by, I actually took up studying translation and interpreting. As a student, I worked at LEXIKA as an assistant project manager and later did a translation internship during which I had the opportunity to collaborate with a professional translation company and experienced translators. Moreover, I did a translation internship at the European Commission Representation in Bratislava which offered me the chance to experience translating for the EU. After graduating, I began working full-time at LEXIKA as an internal reviser/translator.