Subscribe to Blog via Email
December 2023 M T W T F S S « Jul 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
What is the longest word of Modern Greek?
When I posted about the longest words of Greek, I didn’t include Modern Greek, because I don’t have ready access to the resources that would give me an answer. A blessing on his house (not for the first time): Nikos Sarantakos put up a post asking for suggestions from his readers. Given how arbitrary word compounding is, and how fragile the authority for words is, Nikos asked for contributions in three classes:
- Words in dictionaries
- Words found in texts, or derived from a word in texts
- Made up words
Sarantakos is leaving out chemical and numerical words, “which are no fun” (που δεν έχουν γούστο).
I’ve promised to reproduce the results here “for the Franks” 🙂 , and the thread has now died down enough that I will. Remember, the longest words of pre-Modern Greek are Aristophanes’ monsterpiece, 171 letters long, and then, leaving out numericals, the thunderclap word from the Magical papyri, κεραυνομεγακλονοζηνπερατοκοσμολαμπροβελοπλουτοδότα, at 50 letters. I’ve also cast around a couple of other online threads, but not found anything longer. To keep things manageable, I’m cutting off at 25 letters for made up words.
I do of course know that this proves little, because compounding is productive in Greek, and many other languages. In fact the WordReference.com thread on longest words discussed discounting compounds from the listing, and with good reason. I’ll say more on that in a followup post, after the letdown of the actual longest word found online.
It is still significant that Greek compounds more productively in general than English say, and that words 15 letters long are not that uncommon. But Greek is not in the running with actual agglutinative languages like Inuit or Turkish; and impressionalistically, German still beats Greek for commonplace usage of very long words.
1. In a dictionary
- Nikos Sarantakos himself suggested κοινωνιογλωσσολογικούς (22 chars), accusative plural of κοινωνιογλωσσολογικός “sociolinguistic”.
- The longest I could find in the ispell spelling dictionary is ηλεκτροεγκεφαλογραφήματος “of an electroencephalogram” (24 chars—better known in English as EEG)
- δεσοξυριβοζονουκλεϊνικό “deoxyribonucleic: DNA” (24 chars, P..Konidiaris)
- αλληλοεξουδετερωνόμασταν “we were neutralising each other” (25 chars, P..Konidiaris and Diver of Sinks). That verb isn’t in the dictionaries, as Sarantakos notes, though αλληλοεξυπηρετούμαι “we are serviceable to each other” is in Triantafyllidis, and αλληλοσυμπληρώνομαι “complete each other” in Babiniotis, so αλληλοεξυπηρετόντουσαν “they were serviceable …”, αλληλοσυμπληρωνόντουσαν “they were completing …” (22 chars)
- αρεταμαρτωλιδεοπαθοφθέγματος “of an utterance of the passion of the idea of virtue and sin (?)” (28 chars, TAK, from Anastasiadi-Symeonidi’s reverse dictionary) No idea why it’s in there, and noone’s quite sure what it’s even supposed to mean.
I’m suspicious of that last word, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was made up. The fact that dictionaries aren’t as prepared to go there makes sense, given that Modern Greek dictionaries are all about words in actual use. Greek thinks a six-syllable word is relatively short, as we’ll see further down; but ten syllables is about the limit of practicality.
Kriaras’ dictionary of Early Modern Greek is more sympathetic to hapaxes, being a dictionary of a literary canon. It has three words of 26–28 letters, which I didn’t include in the previous post, because they just missed the 29-letter barrier I set there:
- εκατοστοτεσσαρακοστοτέταρτον “1/144” (28 chars: the 14th century Rechenbuch [Arithmetic textbook] published by K. Vogel)
- ανακουρκουδοκλανομούστακος “squatting fart moustached” (26 chars: from the Mass of the Beardless Man. Of course.)
- εντεροκαρδιοσυκωτοφλέγμονα “entrails, heart, liver, and lungs” (26 chars: from the Mass of the Beardless Man. Of course bis.)
2. Made up
There were the inevitable joke non-words here, such as:
- “The longest word of Greek is whatever follows, on TV panel interviews, the phrase ‘I’ll just say one more word’. Said word usually lasts three to five minutes.” (lots of chars, Alfred E. Newman)
- Τελειώνωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωωω “I’m cumming!” (50 chars, Kostas)
- “With the help of some ακετυλοσαλικυλικού (acetylosalicylic) acid—an aspirin, get it?—I hope to manage to read through your posts. … I think I win: the longest word in the smallest package!!!” (18 chars, Misirlou)
More wordlike coinages, though not necessarily less jocular:
- οικονομικοπολιτικοκοινωνικούς “economical/political/social” (29 chars, P..Konidaris)
- χαζοκουτομουνογαμόσταυρος “dumb stupid cunt fuck Cross = particularly stupid individual” (25 chars, Alfred E. Newman)
- χαζοκουτομουνογαμοσταυρίζουμε “we say ‘dumb stupid cunt fuck Cross'” (29 chars, Alfred E. Newman)
- ψυχοσεξανωμαλοπορνοδιαστροφικός “psycho-sexual perverted debauched deviant” (30 chars, Nikiplos)
- τσαχπινομπιρμπιλογαργαλογκαβλιαροσιγανοπαπαδιά “coquettish, lively-eyed, tickling, sexy quiet–priest’s-daughter [cf. stereotype of librarian]”, (46 chars, Epicharmus, gradually built up over a series of comments between him and Voulagx)
- ιστορικοκοινωνικοοικονομικοπεριβαλλοντολογικός “historical/sociological/economical/environmental” (46 chars, Thrax Vlax and Kornilios)
- Αυστρογερμανοελβετογαλλοϊταλομονεγασκικός “Austrian, German, Swiss, French, Italian, Monegasque” (41 chars, Kornilios)
- Ελληνοαποτηνπρωηνγιουγκοσλαβικηδημοκρατιατηςμακεδονιασόπουλο “offspring of a Greek and a Former-Yugoslav-Republic-of-Macedonia-n” (58 chars, Lefteris Dikeos and Nikos Sarantakos)
The final coinage makes its point—that the name of FYROM acceptable to Greece makes for awkward morphology; but it’s so awkward as to be disqualified as a real word: it is chock full of internal inflections, and accusative and genitive articles have no business inside a word.
The other coinages fit into Greek morphology just fine, and the economico-politico- coinages parody extant journalistic cliches.
3. In texts
These lists won’t be exhaustive of course, but I think they’re indicative.
- σκουληκομερμηγκότρυπες “worm- and ant-holes = convolutions” (23 chars, Nikos Sarantakos) (6 hits on Google excluding Sarantakos’ and this)
- υποδηματοεπιδιορθωτήριον “shoe repair shop” (24 chars, Nikos Sarantakos, recorded by linguist Manolis Triantafyllidis in Tripoli)
- οικονομικοπεριβαλλοντικούς “economical/environmental” (26 chars, Nikos Sarantakos) (no Google hits, but I’ll take his word for it)
- αναρχοληστοκομμουνιστοσυμμορίτες “anarchist, brigand, communist gang members” (32 chars, Epicharmus, frequent official condemnation of the Communists during the Greek Civil war) (1 google hit)
- Εαμοβουλγαροκομμουνιστοσυμμορίτης “National-Liberation-Front (EAM) Bulgarian Communist gang member” (33 chars, Vermeer, ditto) (2 google hits in the plural)
- πανεξυπνοτετραπερατοσοφομεγαλοφυΐα “all-smart ingenious wise genius” (34 chars, Dokiskaki: “I’m sure I remember it from a comic book, but which one? Mickey Mouse? Asterix? Iznogoud?” Sarantakos put this under “made up words”, but the hint of a citation makes me move it here)
- αλκοολικοσαταναρχαιολογικοψευτομεγαλοφυές “alcoholic satanic archaeological pseudo-ingenious” (41 chars, SOphia; translation of the book title Der satanarchäolügenialkohöllische Wunschpunsch. Yes, it’s German.)
- υπηρετομαγεροσιδεροζυμωσφουγκαροκαμαριεροκηπουροαμαξογραμματογλωσσομαθής “servant, cook, ironing, baking, cleaning, chambermaid, gardener, carriage driving, secretary and linguist” (72 chars, Paliouras; a word remembered from a Karagiozis play, probably second grade primary school, 1982)
How serious are these words? Less so the longer you get of course. Linguistic polemic is one of the reasons they can get so long: Learnèd Greek liked long compounds, and people mocking them would make them exaggeratedly longer still:
- ελαδιοξιδιοαλατολαχανοκαρύκευμα “oil–vinegar–salt–lettuce–concoction”, i.e. Greek salad (31 chars, TAK: Iakovos Rizos Neroulos, Korakistika [PDF], p. 42)
- εδωδιμολεσχοποικιλοβρωματοπωλείον “hall of edibles and shop selling various foodstuffs” (33 chars, TAK: Dimitrios Vyzantios, Babylonia [PDF])
- Τηλε-τηλεοπτικοδιαυλοεπιλογή or τηλετηλοψιοδιαυλοεπιλογή “remote televisual channel choice = TV remote control” (27, 24 chars, Diver of Sinks: blog post by Yannis Harris)
Neroulos’ and Vyzantios’ plays are early 19th century parodies of Greek sociolinguistics, and they target the long (and serious-minded) compounds of learnèd Greek in particular: the learnèd hero chokes on pronouncing “oil–vinegar–salt–lettuce–concoction”, and is cured when he is forced to say the rather more vernacular λαχανοσαλάτα “lettuce salad”. Though 6 syllables is a lot less than 17, λαχανοσαλάτα is still a leviathan by many languages’ norms, it should be said. TAK reports there are many other such coinages in the plays; you can discover them at your leisure.
In a similar vein, Yannis Haris is satirising Vyron Polydoras learnèd construction of διαυλοεπιλογή “channel selection” for the common less Hellenic τηλεκοντρόλ “remote control”. By prefixing τηλε- “remote” and τηλεοπτικο- “televisual”, and then Atticising τηλεοπτικο- to τηλοψιο-, Haris is upping Polydoras’ ante.
Another source of long words is tongue-twisters: yes, these are hardly intended for productive communication—and neither are the linguistic parodies above. But to be learnable, they do at least have to make sense semantically as words.
- μολυβοκοντυλοπελεκητούς “carved with a lead stylus” (24 chars, Nikos Sarantakos); Cypriot variant, μολυβοσι(δ)εροκαντζελλοπελετζημένη “carved with a lead and iron railing” (31 chars, Dimitris)
- ποτηροκαλαθοσκαρβελοσωμαρογαϊδουρολειβαδοποταμίσουμε “let’s [put] the glass on the basket on the saddle post on the saddle on the donkey on the meadow on the river” (52 chars, Immortalité)
So where are we? Ten syllables seems to be the limit of a practical long word, which is why dictionaries peter out at around 20 letters length. The Greek constitution has 22,939 words, and the following word length frequencies:
Once we go above that limit, words aren’t practical any more, and the point of using them is almost always that they’re overlong. They’re satires of long (but not *that* long) learnèd coinages, or tongue-twisters, or literary flourishes—compounds so long just because the author can. The annoyance with the 72 letters of the longest word of all so far, the Karagiozis play’s υπηρετομαγεροσιδεροζυμωσφουγκαροκαμαριεροκηπουροαμαξογραμματογλωσσομαθής, is that there’s no incandescent literary genius to it. We’ll be even more disappointed next post, when I divulge an online coinage even longer than Aristophanes’.
But Aristophanes’ genius has blinded us to what long coinages are about. Aristophanes was among the first to coin such a monster, presumably; and such coinages are artifices of the written word, they’re hard to sustain in an oral medium. (Not impossible, as the tongue-twisters show.) But now that everyone is an author, everyone can coin that kind of word, should the need come up.
Aristophanes’ genius with his lopado-temacho-thing wasn’t that he was able to compound a 171-letter long word; that’s the Greek language making it possible. His genius was that he had the chutzpah to do it. And chutzpah is not the exclusive preserve of canonical literary authors.