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Jan 14, 2018
This week’s theme
Long words with short definitions

This week’s words
pneumonoultramicrosco- picsilicovolcanoconiosis

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

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Next week’s theme
Words of nautical origins

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AWADmail Issue 811

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language

Sponsor’s Message: Hey, Wisenheimers! When was the last time you gave a housewarming/thank-you gift to the cleverheads in your life that actually flummoxed them? Email of the Week winner, Steve Phelan (see below), as well as all AWADers, can frustrate and fascinate their brainy generous frenemies for the rest of the year with our wicked smart word game One Up! - The Gift That Keeps on Unforgiving. Purchase at your peril NOW.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the Net

World Media Struggle to Translate Trump’s Africa Insult
The New York Times

Trump Speaks at Fourth-Grade Level, Lowest of Last 15 US Presidents

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Senectitude

The word is derived from Latin senectus, meaning old age, made famous by the medieval goliardic song Gaudeamus igitur.

“Post iucundam iuventutem, post molestam senectutem, nos habebit humus.”
(After the jollity of youth and the vexation of old age, the earth will possess us.)

The composer Brahms had the temerity to use this tune in his Academic Overture, composed for his being awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Breslau (today’s Wroclaw), thus encouraging students to continue their time-sanctioned bad habit. It is not certain if he wanted them to keep up duelling as well.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Craig Huizinga (craigzinga gmail.com)
Subject: senectitude

My band was called Irksome Old Age, way back when the dinosaurs ruled the airwaves... our defining song was “Molestus Senectus” -- a swirling dervish of a song with a hint of medieval flavoring.

Craig Huizinga, Lake Forest Park, Washington

From: M Henri Day (mhenriday gmail.com)
Subject: Re: Weltanschauung

I note that in the illustration to this word, the view of the world reflected in the pupil of the eye shows a view of North and South America, which is rather typical of representations of the globe seen in the United States. Given that by far the greatest number of human beings -- who to a large degree constitute our world -- live in that part of the world seen if that image is rotated 180°, it might be wise to keep this in mind the next time such a symbol is used.

M Henri Day, Stockholm, Sweden

From: B G Thorpe (bgthorpe myfairpoint.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--weltanschauung

My companion, Hellmut Juretschke, was born in Berlin in 1924. Here’s his reaction to today’s word:

Thanks for showing me today’s ‘Word’ at breakfast, which brought back such a whole shower of early memories that it has taken a few hours to arrange it all in some sensible pattern. As you know, I first encountered this word when in one of my earliest report cards my teacher crossed out the subject listed as ‘Religion’ and wrote over it this famous word above. To a seven- or eight-year-old boy it certainly was a big word, and completely new. I remember asking my parents for an explanation. I don’t remember at all the exact words they used, but somehow they imprinted in me the notion of ‘a way of looking at the world’, which has remained with me ever since. Not just passively perceiving the world, but finding a framework that makes it comprehensible. It helped me to understand later my older cousin’s reading of Nietzsche, and my own first encounter with Spinoza, and my interest in all sorts of topics. And, as I come to think about it, it may have played a role in my survival during the Nazi onslaught, and, -- at the end -- in my ending up as a physicist? It’s always somewhere in the back of my memory! PS: I think that I may have gotten a grade of ‘Excellent’ in the subject, but I will have to look it up on my report card, which still exists, to be sure. I will let you know.

(He’s just self-published a memoir, Glimpses of a Boyhood in Troubled Times.)

BG Thorpe, Blue Hill, Maine

From: Victoria Boisen (victoria.boisen gmail.com)
Subject: infundibulum

There are a lot of these in medicine. Let’s see, there is one connecting the pituitary to the hypothalamus in the brain, one in the uterus (two actually -- both sides of the fallopian tubes) where most of us became embryos, some infundibula in the cerebral arteries; lots of funnels in the body!

Dr. Victoria Boisen, Granada Hills, California

From: David Franks (david.franks cox.net)
Subject: infundibuliform

Many of us who are of a certain range of ages might remember “infundibulum” from Kurt Vonnegut’s coinage, “chronosynclastic infundibulum”, used in the novel The Sirens of Titan and in Between Time and Timbuktu, a PBS television special. It refers to a time warp of sorts; the term appears to literally refer to a funnel-shaped phenomenon that entirely curves toward the same side of time, sort of. The term is no less impressive for its paradoxical nature, as a funnel is anticlastic rather than synclastic.

David Franks, Fayetteville, Arkansas

From: Janine Harris-Wheatley (janinehw20 gmail.com)
Subject: floccinaucinihilipilification

So by definition the ink spent to print this word or the breath expelled to say it are worth more than the item being defined.

Janine Harris-Wheatley, Tottenham, Canada

From: Kathryn Smith (via website comments)
Subject: floccinaucinihilipilification

I first learned this word from Robert Heinlein’s “Number of the Beast”, in the variation “floccinaucinihilipilificatrix”. When I investigated it, I learned that the term was coined to indicate not just “an estimate of worthlessness”, but also a level of drama that’s unwarranted to that estimation. The frequent “Millennials are so self-entitled!” accusations would be an example, since the so-called millennials are neither more nor less self-entitled than any other generation.

Kathryn Smith

From: David Goldsmith (david goldsmith.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--floccinaucinihilipilification

This has been my favourite word for a long time. When I worked in a steel mill, I had a label made for my hard hat saying “Vice President of Floccinaucinihilipilification”. Made for interesting conversations on the plant floor.

David Goldsmith, Montreal, Canada

From: Betty Feinberg (bgfeinberg cox.net)
Subject: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

Silicosis. (I won’t even attempt to write out the whole word.)

The “incident” you refer to, in which hundreds of men, desperate for work during the Depression, died as a result of drilling a water power diversion tunnel through silicacious rock without any protective gear for Union Carbide, occurred near where I was born (and near the same time) in West Virginia.

My father, a coal miner, died of another -osis, pneumoconiosis, better known as black lung. That name is not an exaggeration; the lungs of a coal miner, like those of a smoker, become as black as the coal they mine.

Betty Feinberg, Tucson, Arizona

From: Dwight Harshbarger (via website comments)
Subject: Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

My 2010 novel, Witness at Hawks Nest, tells the human and tragic story of Union Carbide’s tunnel through solid rock with no respiratory protection for workers. And it details the cover-up by Union Carbide and the State of WV.

Dwight Harshbarger, West Virginia

From: Vincent O’Malley (via website comments)
Subject: Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

I grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, UK, the pottery manufacturing area of England during the fifties and sixties and silica was used extensively. Thousands of workers died over the years in that industry. Most of the workers also smoked very heavily and the combination of the two evils lead to much death and misery.

Vincent O’Malley, Canada

From: Todd Derr (todd.derr gmail.com)
Subject: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

The long form would have been a bit more challenging to work in here (video, 1.5 min.) (credited as “traditional, arranged by James Gordon”)

We are miners,
Hard rock miners,
Can’t you feel the rock dust in your lungs,
It will cut down a miner when he is still young,
Two years and the silicosis takes hold,
And I feel like I’m dying,
From mining for gold

Todd Derr, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Email of the Week brought to you BUY One Up ! -- Every Smart Aleck’s Delight/Doom.

From: Steve Phelan (stephen.d.phelan gmail.com)
Subject: A highlight of my life

Some years ago, I actually got to use pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (did I miss any letters?) in a conversation. I was at a sand manufacturing plant -- yes, there is such a thing -- and we got onto the topic of plant safety software. I casually asked if pneu--sis was much of a problem, and what kinds of respirators they used, etc. I still consider that conversation to be the highlight of my verbal life. I mean, what are the chances of that?

Steve Phelan, Holmes, New York

From: Ken Landaiche (ken.landaiche gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

Sheesh, when I was a kid, I learned that antidisestablishmentarianism was the longest word. But that was in 1960-70 time, so even then it wasn’t the longest word. Another childhood illusion defenestrated.

Ken Landaiche, Graton, California

From: Bill Hans (billh33 verizon.net)
Subject: This week’s theme

You asked for us to try defining the shortest words in fewer letters than the spelling of the word. That may be true in English, but in computer languages a string of characters of length 0 is a string with nothing in it.
In some computer languages it is symbolized as NUL, φ, or ω. So here φ can be defined with no letters.

Bill Hans, New City, New York

From: Sarah Wright (wrightsarahh hotmail.com)
Subject: longer words

This isn’t a word, but seems to fall into the same category (words longer than their definition). Why do we say “WWW” instead of “World Wide Web”? That’s triple the syllables. I can understand the written use, so maybe we say it to mimic what we write, but still, it’s so much longer. I’m not even sure people would know what we mean if we said “World Wide Web”.

Sarah Wright, Greensboro, North Carolina

From: Earl R. Verbeek (everbeek ptd.net)
Subject: Words that take longer to spell than to define

Something that is longer when abbreviated than when spelled out in full: WWW. World Wars I and II are similar.

Earl R. Verbeek, Andover, New Jersey

From: Jack R. Bierig (jbierig sidley.com)
Subject: a word that describes its opposite

Can you think of a word that describes its opposite and whose opposite describes it?


Jack Bierig, Chicago, Illinois

From: Charles Davis (iamchuckdavis gmail.com)
Subject: long words with short definitions

May I propose a terse sentence, with all (both) words meeting the requirement:
Eschew sesquipedalians = Shun long words.

Charles Davis, Okawville, Illinois

From: Stanley W. Brown (stanley.w.brown dartmouth.edu)
Subject: Abjure obfuscation!

As naughty teenagers in the ’60s we tried -- unsuccessfully, of course -- to shock our elders by boasting of indulging in premarital cosexual interdigitation. They’d remind us that they held hands, too.

Stan Brown, West Lebanon, New Hampshire

From: Christine Whittlesey (christine.whittlesey aon.at)
Subject: long words with short meanings

The old Flanders and Swan song about the Tonga maiden had the following text:

Both: Oh, it’s hard to say...
Flanders: “Oly-ma-kitty-luca-chi-chi-chi”
Both: But in Tonga, that means... “No”!

If I ever have the money,
’Tis to Tonga I shall go.
For each lovely Tongan maiden there,
Will gladly make a date.

And by the time she’s said:
Flanders: “Oly-ma-kitty-luca-chi-chi-chi”,
Both: It is usually too late!

Christine Whittlesey, Gleisdorf, Austria

From: Sam Robinson (sam thewoolstore.co.nz)
Subject: Long words with short definitions

I remember in the early 1980s when IBM had just launched the first 286 personal computer, I went to a seminar where an IBM staffer showed us what was under the hood of this wonderful new product. He pointed out the 5 1/4” floppy disk drives, the motherboard, and the Air Movement Device, or AMD. One of the audience asked, “Why don’t you just call the fan a fan?”

Sam Robinson, Wellington, New Zealand

From: Barbara Hostetler (jahostetler juno.com)
Subject: Words shorter than the definition

Ah yes... Pi. This word has at least 3 definitions, all of which take more letters to define the word than the spelling of the word itself. In fact, the numerical value of pi would go on for a very long time if you let it.
1.The sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet.
2. Osmotic Pressure
3. The numeric value of pi

Barbara Hostetler, Phoenix, Arizona

From: David R Shively, MSgt USAF 118 WG (US) (david.r.shively4.mil mail.mil)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--senectitude

Will you be including the ridiculously long word for “me”?

David R Shively, Nashville, Tennessee

From: Christopher Shea (crshea1 gmail.com)
Subject: Long word

To describe long words: sesquipedalian (foot-and-half) is not only longer than its definition, but also an example of itself!

Christopher R. Shea, Chicago, Illinois

From: Mariana Warner (marianaw6002 gmail.com)
Subject: big words

Thank you, Anu, for inviting your readers to think and write to you about long words used for shorter words. Scientific words are often long, as we know. According to Gizmodo:

The longest word in English has 189,819 letters and would take you three and a half hours to pronounce correctly. Seriously. It’s the chemical name of Titin (or connectin), a giant protein “that functions as a molecular spring which is responsible for the passive elasticity of muscle.” Nov 21, 2012.

Mariana Warner, Asheville, North Carolina

Senectitude Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis & senectitude

“Father Time” may be long-in-the-tooth, but like clockwork, he manages to make his plodding, but deliberate grand appearance every New Year’s Eve, scythe-in-hand, setting the stage for the arrival of the nascent New Year babe. (Belated) Happy New Year to all my fellow AWAD-ers! Wordsmith on... eh!

The “doc” sure did say a mouthful, there. Frankly, he lost me at “pneumo...”. Ha!
PS:-- Sorry, fellow AWAD-ers, for forcing you folk to awkwardly crane your necks to the right in order to read that monstrosity of a word. Hopefully, no permanent physical (or brain) damage. Ha!

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Anagrams of this week’s words

1. senectitude
2. weltanschauung
3. infundibuliform
4. floccinaucinihilipilification
5. pneumonoultramicrosco- picsilicovolcanoconiosis
= 1. it’s old, historic
2. a point of view
3. conic or funnel shape (Fibonacci: “I could concur!”)
4. inauspicious unit
5. silicic molecule inflammation in lung
= 1. autumn of life is no picnic
2. ism
3. conic conduit/conic funnel form
4. worth about nil I opine
5. vicious silica-rich occupational lung disease; ill
    -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)   -Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)

From: Bonnie House (bonbon3444 gmail.com)
Subject: This week’s words

I am looking forward to seeing the limericks this week.

Bonnie House, Phillipston, Massachusetts

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: limericks

My Soulmate was an icon of rectitude.
His benevolence was felt by all, in plenitude.
His spirit was kind.
Erudite was his mind.
At 92, he died of senectitude.
-Monica Broom, Morogoro, Tanzania (monicabroom2015 gmail.com)

A trickster who expressed his gratitude
For having achieved his senectitude
Said that not giving thanks
For a life filled with pranks
Would be just incredibly rude.
-Glenn Ickler, Hopedale, Massachusetts (glennwriter verizon.net)

He’d boast of women he saw nude
In language that was quite crude.
A boor in his youth,
And I think in truth
No better in senectitude.
-Marion Wolf, Bergenfield, New Jersey (marionewolf yahoo.com)

Says psychiatrist, smiling, “Decrepitude?
Annoying sporadic ineptitude?
Don’t worry, my dear,
these will all disappear
once you”re finally done with senectitude.”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

A search on “corrupt mean senectitude”
Yields “dirty old man without rectitude.”
Says Google, “His peeps
Also tend to be creeps,”
And goes on, “You were nuts to elect the dude.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Weltenschauung’s downsized by Trump each day,
Smaller is better is what he would say.
Pakistan, El Salvador?
Throw those countries out the door,
It’s now only us in the US of A.
-Judy Distler, Teaneck, New Jersey (jam1026 aol.com)

He sat in a meditative pose,
at this southernmost tip, in blissful repose.
Here three great oceans merge,
with a primordial surge.
A unique weltanschauung the ascetic chose.
-Shyamal Mukherji, Mumbai, India (mukherjis hotmail.com)

“Mr. Nixon,” declared Mao Zedong,
“We two foes need a new weltanschauung.
Our walls should be breached,
So before you’re impeached,
Send a team and we’ll start with ping pong.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

Infundibuliform means “like a funnel”,
Curriculumiform means “like a tunnel”;
Words that are alien
Travel like Eurostar’s train through the Chunnel.
-Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon (lcrumb uoregon.edu)

To rapturuous Munchkin applause
said Dorothy, I’m here because
clouds in Kansas are th’norm.
A tornado blew me clear out to Oz.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

“You’ve come on a wind infundibuliform,”
Said Glinda, “To where flying monkeys swarm.
There’s a wizard to court,
And a witch you must thwart;
On the way, you’ll make friends and great songs perform.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

When the young newlyweds went on their vacation,
They argued vehemently for all its duration.
The reason, so you’ll see,
Is the ring he bought called she:
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

“Floccinaucinihilipification” -
A word unused from nation to nation;
Thank God our voices
Have other choices;
Consign this one to perdition, negation!
-Marcia Sinclair, Newmarket, Canada (marciasinclair rogers.com)

His floccinaucinihilipilification’s obscene
As his goal is to shame and demean.
He’s down for the count.
It’s quite tantamount
Since lacking he is, moral hygiene.
-Gayle Tremblay, Saint John, Canada (gayletremblay hotmail.com)

A word is already cetacean
If it ends “-hilipilification.”
“Floccinaucini-” too?
You’re a terror, Anu,
I shall ban you from Limerick Nation.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

There exists a long word so atrocious
In its simpler form: silicosis.
Anu, it’s unnerving.
We’re much more deserving.
You’re causing us mental thrombosis.
-Sara Hutchinson, New Castle, Delaware (sarahutch2003 yahoo.com)

While visiting the pulmonologist,
post-auscultation he gave me the list:
silico-volcano-konio-sic ...
My lungs are shot -- kaput! -- that's the gist.
-Brenda J. Gannam, Brooklyn, New York (gannamconsulting earthlink.net)

A deplorable, horrible diagnosis.
This disease of the lung
Doesn’t trip off the tongue.
Anu, I beg you, just call it silicosis.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

Is quite enough to make me drink till I’ve got cirrhosis.
Yet still it lacks “volcanoco”.
It’s making my poor brain go loco.
Violating laws I’d have handed down to Moses.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Sesquipedalian stumpers

Founded around 1650, Schenectady has senectitude.

I enjoy visiting the South African weltanschauung my friends with gifts.

My teasing was meant to be all infunDibuliform an opinion otherwise? I told my sick traveling companion, Flossie, “No see Nile; a pill if occasion arises.” (floccinaucinihilipilification)

Knew m’ Noel to Mike Ruskopp, if silly, Covel (would O) K. No coney, oh sis. (pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis)

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace. -Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobel laureate (14 Jan 1875-1965)

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