(American English: see below
for more pronunciation possibilities) (or variously floccipaucinihilipilification
, as described in You English Words
by John Moore) is "the act of describing something as worthless, or making something to be worthless by deprecation
With 29 letters and 12 syllables, it is the longest non-technical word in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which presents it as "enumerated in a well-known rule from the Eton Latin Grammar". The OED dates its first use in literature at 1741 in William Shenstone's Works in Prose and Verse: "I loved him for nothing so much as his flocci-nauci-nihili-pili-fication of money". In recent years the word has been used in many scholarly articles in philosophy.
Though the OED gives no specifics on its derivation, the word is said to have been invented as an erudite joke by a student of Eton College, who, upon consulting a Latin textbook, found four ways of saying "don't care" and combined them:
- flocci facere (from floccus, -i a wisp or piece of wool)
- nauci facere (from naucum, -i a trifle)
- nihili facere (from nihil, -i nothing; something valueless (lit. "not even a thread" from ni+hilum)) Example being: "nihilism"
- pili facere (from pilus, -i a hair; a bit or a whit; something small and insignificant)
It is often spelled with hyphens, and has even spawned the back formations floccinaucical (inconsiderable or trifling) and floccinaucity (the essence or quality of being of small importance). The OED appears to have overlooked floccinaucinihilipilificatious, which has one letter more than the nominal form, and means "small" or "insignificant." When the common English nominal suffix -ness is then added to the above adjective, a thirty-four letter noun floccinaucinihilipilificatiousness is formed, which means "smallness" or "insignificance."
It is also interesting to note that floccinaucinihilipilification, in its original form, does not contain the letter E - the most common letter in the English language.
A number of pronunciations have been suggested for this word, including the following (shown in IPA English pronunciation key
The most Anglicized pronunciation is /ˌflɒksɨˌnɔːsɨˌnaɪhɨlɨˌpɪlɨfɨˈkeɪʃən/.
- Alan Davies: Crikey.
- Stephen Fry: No, not crikey.
- Jo Brand: Floccinaucinihilipilification.
- Stephen Fry: He didn't invent that word, but well done for knowing it. Which means— ?
- Jo Brand: The act of assessing something as worthless.
- Stephen Fry: Very correct.
- The word appeared in a Double Jeopardy! Round REALLY LONG WORDS clue in game #4962 of Jeopardy!, aired 2006-03-21. Alex Trebek humorously gave up trying to pronounce the word while reading the clue.
- Episode 14 of The Brak Show featured the word. After a thorough freestyle hip-hop trouncing from a record store clerk stemming from a disagreement over his chances at an upcoming rap contest, Brak defiantly announced that loser was not in his vocabulary—but neither was floccinaucinihilipilification.
- U.S. Senators Robert Byrd and Daniel Patrick Moynihan discussed the word on the Senate floor on June 17, 1991. Senator Byrd noted that he had used the word two or three years earlier on the Senate floor. Senator Moynihan was attempting to establish the longer variant: floccinaucinihilipilificationism.
- United States Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) proclaimed his floccinaucinihilipilification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in a July 1999 hearing. Helms claimed he learned the word from fellow senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
- Mike McCurry, Bill Clinton's press secretary, used the word in a 1995 press briefing.
- Used in the BBC quiz show Catchword as the player using the longest word in some rounds got a bonus.
- It is the title of a 1996 recording from the Chicago-area noise music group Panicsville released on Nihilist Records.
- On episode #6 of the first season of the Nickelodeon show, Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Jennifer Mosely was knocked out of James K. Polk's annual spelling bee because of this word. It was mispronounced "Flouxen-ousen-ihi-pilification."
- Robert A. Heinlein used it at least twice; once in The Puppet Masters, where the narrator and main character 'Sam' refers to an individual as a floccinaucinihilipilificator, giving it the definition of "a joker who does not believe in anything he can't bite", and once in The Number of the Beast, where Capt. Z. John Carter used the feminine form of floccinaucinihilipilificatrix when referring to his mother-in-law, Hilda Mae Burroughs.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast, the character Deety uses it in reply to Zebadiah informing her that she misspelled "Gay Deceiver, take us home" (p. 138 of paperback edition).
- Patrick O'Brian used a hyphenated version in 1970s Master and Commander. The character Stephen Maturin said: "There is a systematic 'flocci-nauci-nihili-pilification' of all other aspects of existence that angers me".
- Adam Spencer's Book of Numbers gives an example of how to use floccinaucinihilipilification in context:
- Fred: Hey Bill, have you heard the new Celine Dion album?
- Bill: It's absolute crap!
- Fred: Well, there's no need for floccinaucinihilipilification.
- In her book The Way They Learn, Cynthia Tobias uses floccinaucinihilipilification as an example of how a person learns to remember, spell, and pronounce words through their learning style (auditory, visual, or kinesthetic).
- David Myers uses the word in the eighth edition of his Psychology textbook when he discusses the negative effects of low self-esteem:
- "Disparage yourself and you will be prone to the floccinaucinihilipilification of others" (Myers 633)
- It was used in closing credits once in a Pinky and the Brain cartoon (Warner Bros.). The word with its definition was mixed in with the rest of the rolling credits. (Episode 13)
- Used to minute a decision by Comberton Parish Council (Cambridge, UK) See section 2.3 of Comberton PC Minuteswhere they had (eventually) decided that land they had just spent ~GBP60K on acquiring was, for the purposes of paying government tax, now of zero value since it was now 'public open space' and couldn't be developed.
- Matthew Bellamy (after some drinks ) in an interview (see here http://youtube.com/watch?v=ymZ7fFropEk&feature=related )
- Felipe Fernandez-Armesto uses it on page 59 of his book Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America as an example of his superior intelligence: "they added a dexterous piece of floccinaucinihilipilification."
- Episode 73 of Wife Swap (aired 2008-02-28) featured the word. After the "new" mother, Karen Sutton, complains about her host family using too many big words (such as "anonymous"), 16 year old Cassie Myers uses the word as an example of what she considered a "big word."
- Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the word was used on BBC Radio 4's (then the BBC Home Service)"Round the Horne". The cast were discussing the Flanders and Swann song, "Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud"; one member argued that any word could be substituted for 'mud', and Kenneth Horne tried out 'floccinaucinihilipilification'. It didn't work very well.
- In an episode of the children's TV show Beakman's World, floccinaucinihilipilification was noted as the longest non-technical word in the English language.
- Floccinaucinihilipilification is the title of the second of Irish composer David Flynn's Two Nonsense Songs and features the word sung alongside other long words such as antidisestablishmentarianism and Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis