‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ may be double-talk to some, but according to Wikipedia it’s thought to be the longest word in the English language and its components suggest a meaning of “atoning for educability through delicate beauty.” If you heard the song sung by Mary Poppins in the film of the same name, you’d remember she said it is “something to say when you have nothing to say.” It is “a memorable ficticious word”, unlike ‘antidisestablishmentarianism,’ another long word which is said to describe a political position that originated in 19th-century Britain.
A couple years ago I posted on le mot juste, about writers who are always looking for exactly the right word – the one that all too often is just out of reach. Maybe it’s that struggle that tempts us to pepper our prose with excessive verbiage. Do we think a longer word will convey meaning better than a short one? Or are we attempting to be literary and impress readers with our extensive vocabulary? Only a sesquipedalianist really appreciates long words for the sake of their length.
Not an advocate for ‘poligab’, George Orwell once said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do,” and “If it’s possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.”
It’s good advice. After all, we wouldn’t want to be known as a hyperpolysyllabicsesquipedalianist, would we?
What do you do when the perfect word escapes you?