"Floccinaucinihilipilification” is one of the longest words in the English language. U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003), from New York, added the suffix “-ism” to create the word “floccinaucinihilipilificationism.” Moynihan explained it in a July 1991 letter to the New York (NY) Times:
“It has never been my purpose to create the longest word, simply a new word. I first used the term 10 years ago as the title of a New Yorker review of John Kenneth Galbraith’s memoirs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines floccinaucinihilipilification as ‘the action of estimating as worthless.’ I had what could be called a premonition that we had entered an age in which this would characterize the budget estimates of the United States Government and so added the’"ism.’ A new word.”
The online Oxford English Dictionary currently includes the word “floccinaucinihilipilification,” but not “floccinaucinihilipilificationism.”
A jocular coinage, apparently by students at Eton, combining a number of roughly synonymous Latin stems. Latin flocci, from floccus, a wisp or piece of wool + nauci, from naucum, a trifle + nihili, from the Latin pronoun, nihil (“nothing”) + pili, from pilus, a hair, something insignificant (all therefore having the sense of “pettiness” or “nothing") + -fication. “Flocci non facio” was a Latin expression of indifference, literally “I do not make a straw of...”.
1.The act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant.
1741: William Shenstone, Letters, I loved him for nothing so much as his flocci-nauci-nihili-pili-fication of money.
1970: Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander, There is a systematic flocci-nauci-nihili-pilification of all other aspects of existence that angers me.
Often cited as the longest non-technical word in the English language, being one letter longer than the commonly-cited antidisestablishmentarianism.
Wikipedia: Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick “Pat” Moynihan (March 16, 1927 – March 26, 2003) was an American politician and sociologist. A member of the Democratic Party, he was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected three times (in 1982, 1988, and 1994). He declined to run for re-election in 2000. Prior to his years in the Senate, Moynihan was the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations and to India, and was a member of four successive presidential administrations, beginning with the administration of John F. Kennedy, and continuing through Gerald Ford.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
[f. L. flocc, nauc, nihil, pil words signifying ‘at a small price’ or ‘at nothing’ enumerated in a well-known rule of the Eton Latin Grammar + -FICATION.]
The action or habit of estimating as worthless.
1741 SHENSTONE Let. xxii. Wks. 1777 III. 49, I loved him for nothing so much as his flocci-nauci-nihili-pili-fication of money.
1816 SOUTHEY in Q. Rev. XIV. 334.
1829 SCOTT Jrnl. 18 Mar., They must be taken with an air of contempt, a floccipaucinihilipilification [sic, here and in two other places] of all that can gratify the outward man.
New York (NY) Times
NOTES ON PEOPLE; Moynihan Adds to a Record Word
By Albin Krebs and Robert McG. Thomas
Published: August 12, 1981
A couple of years ago, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan had a lot of fun with reporters in Washington when he used a word listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Mr. Moynihan promised a bottle of wine to the first reporter who could get the word, properly spelled, into his newspaper.
The 29-letter word was floccinaucinihilipilification, which means ‘’the action of estimating as worthless.’’
New York (NY) Times
By Frank Lynn
Published: June 23, 1991
In the midst of the lengthy Senate debate on a Federal transportation bill on Wednesday, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the bill’s sponsor, digressed to inform his colleagues that the longest word in the English dictionary was not antidisestablishmentarianism as they had learned as children but floccinaucinihilipilificationism—the futility of making estimates on the accuracy of public data, the Senator said.
That touched off a debate within the debate when Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia said he had used the word on the Senate floor about two years ago.
Not to be outdone, Senator Moynihan responded: “Mr. President, no one surpasses the erudition or scholarship of our revered president pro tempore with respect to parliamentary comments. And having said what I said, I believe the Senator has referred to floccinaucinihilipilification but did the Senator add ‘ism’?” Senator Byrd conceded he had not and suggested that he and Senator Moynihan “get our heads together.”
New York (NY) Times
Published: June 26, 1991
The coinage is based on floccinaucinihilipilification , a 29-letter word that was the longest word in the Oxford English Dictionary, First Edition, and that means the action or habit of estimating as worthless. By adding the letters ism , and using the term repeatedly in the Senate, Mr. Moynihan hopes to make lexicographers take note of a 32-letter longest word. That would leave old chestnuts like the 28-letter antidisestablishmentarianism in the shade.
It appears, alas, that the Senator hasn’t consulted a big dictionary for quite a while. Since 1961, the longest word in the unabridged Merriam-Webster Third New International Dictionary has been pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis—45 letters—a made-up word describing a lung disease caused by breathing volcanic or other fine dust. The coiner who beat Senator Moynihan to the punch was an F. Scully, in a 1936 book titled “Bedside Manna.” The Oxford people have recognized the word since 1982.
New York (NY) Times
A Word for the Age Appears Just in Time
Published: July 13, 1991
To the Editor,
Save in instances, such as there be, in which honesty is the best policy, the most frequently indicated strategy in politics is to obscure one’s objective. Up to a point. The campaign to establish floccinaucinihilipilificationism has reached that point, and it seems only fair to fess up. It has never been my purpose to create the longest word, simply a new word.
I first used the term 10 years ago as the title of a New Yorker review of John Kenneth Galbraith’s memoirs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines floccinaucinihilipilification as “the action of estimating as worthless.” I had what could be called a premonition that we had entered an age in which this would characterize the budget estimates of the United States Government and so added the “ism.” A new word.
I recently used the term in the course of Senate debate on the apportionments of the Highway Trust Fund. You reported this usage in your news columns (June 23), introduced the term to your editorial page ("Sesquipedalians," June 26) and then to your letters columns ("Long-Word Competition Stretches On,” July 7). The O.E.D. can scarcely any longer ignore such prestigious sightings.
Do not dismiss the term’s usefulness. We are in an age of floccinaucinihilipilificationism. Let The Washington Post at budget season prattle on about “The Return of Miss Rosy Scenario.” A more appropriate headline summary would be “Floccinaucinihilipilificationism Again.” You could try “Floccinaucinihilipilificationism Redux,” but that might be reaching.
DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN
U.S. Senator from New York
Washington, July 10, 1991
NYTimes.com - City Room
October 13, 2010, 10:42 am
Floccinaucinihilipilificationism: A Word as Big as the Man
By ALISON LEIGH COWAN
He advised four presidents, twice served as a United States ambassador and had a tenured chair at Harvard, all before becoming a four-term senator from New York.
Yet there was Daniel Patrick Moynihan on July 1, 1991, humbly laying on the charm in an effort to wheedle William Safire, a former colleague in the Nixon White House, into mentioning the word “floccinaucinihilipilificationism” in his columns for The New York Times.
Moynihan prided himself on coining the 32-letter mouthful, which he defined as “the futility of making estimates on the accuracy of public data.” As his typewritten letter to Mr. Safire reflects, he had created the word by adding the suffix “ism” to an existing word and then spent years cajoling others to pick up on it, so he could take credit for creating the longest word in the dictionary. When that goal eluded him, he restated his goal as simply wanting to get a word, any word, into the dictionary, as a way to secure his legacy.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Thursday, October 14, 2010 • Permalink