Why This Is the Longest Word in the English Language


This jumble of over one thousand unreadable letters is not the product of a kitty dancing on a keyboard. It’s a protein found inside of a virus. And it’s the longest word in the English language. Probably.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, the obnoxious blob of sound we’re all taught is the longest word in the world as children, is not a real word. It’s artificial verbiage, designed to be the longest word in the English language, the same way calorically empty Diet Coke is designed to impersonate a real thing. Which prompts NPR’s Robert Krulwich’s probe into the real longest world in English. A mission to find “a word that is not famous for being long, but a word that describes something real.”

Dug up by Sam Kean in his book The Disappearing Spoon, it’s the 1185-letter word you see above, a protein inside of the tobacco mosaic virus, which appeared in 1964. There are longer molecules in existence, like a 1,913-letter word describing a protein inside of a tryptophan virus—but they’ve never been printed in their entirety, unlike the winding screed above. Does that rule them out? The rabbit hole goes deeper: [NPR]

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