Thursday, December 4, 2008

Floccinaucinihilipilification

mr know-it-allNow and then one of my offspring brings something odd or amusing to my attention. Yesterday one of them showed me the word "floccinaucinihilipilification," and we chuckled listening to its pronunciation at Dictionary.com, where it's defined as "an act or instance of judging something to be worthless or trivial."

A combination of latin roots, it's not a new word, and it has an alternate spelling, "floccinoccinihilipilification" I read at one blog that the word is one letter less than "antidisestablishmentarianism." I thought that it may be shorter if using the alternate spelling, but both its alternate spelling and its dictionary.com spelling are longer than the word "antidisestablishmentarianism" by one letter.

My children and I spent time using the word in sentences. One of mine was "Igniting racial division, Rush Limbaugh continues to indulge in floccinaucinihilipilification when it comes to black people."

Personally, I think the word itself is useless for a writer, except for a laugh or to use in irony. When would it ever be the "right word"? With that I'm thinking of Mark Twain's writing advice, usually paraphrased, to not use dollar words when nickle words will do. If you love words and the sound of odd words, you may be prone to using the longest, weirdest ones, but word-addicted writers must be careful to not be pedants.

Neither of the above spellings of "floccinaucinihilipilification" appears in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Does that mean it's not a word? The word, however, is in the Oxford Dictionary online. Also, several sources discuss it as the longest word in the English language. Wikipedia word addicts are fighting about that and the longest word entry has been locked.

The Oxford has this information about the word: "ORIGIN from Latin flocci, nauci, nihili, pili (words meaning ‘at little value’)." So, the word is a description of itself. But it's good for dinner conversation, maybe, depending on your company.

All this talk about useless words, pedants, and showing off knowledge, leads me to clips from a show I really like, but rarely watch, Big Bang Theory. In the first clip the guys, geeks and nerds (Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Rajesh), debate the science of Superman, which bores ordinary girl, Penny, Sheldon and Leonard's neighbor. The second clip is Penny quizzing Leonard and Sheldon on pop culture trivia to determine who's smarter.






I hate the canned laughter on the show.

Day four of NaBloPoMo.

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