2010-03-02

What are the longest words of Greek?

Everyone knows (or should know) about the longest word of Greek ever—the word that broke the title bar of Wikipedia, Aristophanes' fantastical dish of 17 ingredients at the end of the Ecclesiazusae, that lopado-temacho-thing:

λοπαδοτεμαχοσελαχογαλεοκρανιολειψανοδριμυποτριμματοσιλφιολιπαρομελιτοκατακεχυμενοκιχλεπικοσσυφοφαττοπεριστεραλεκτρυονοπτοπιφαλλιδοκιγκλοπελειολαγῳοσιραιοβαφητραγανοπτερυγών (172 chars)

Ah. It breaks blogspot too. :-)

λοπαδοτεμαχοσελαχογαλεοκρανιολειψανοδριμυποτριμματοσιλφιο­λιπαρομελιτοκατακεχυμενοκιχλεπικοσσυφοφαττοπεριστεραλεκτρυονοπτο­πιφαλλιδοκιγκλοπελειολαγῳοσιραιοβαφητραγανοπτερυγών (172 chars)

Have you ever wondered what the next longest words of Greek are? No? Well, you'll find out anyway. With the necessary provisos as usual:

  • I'm basing this on the word forms in the current TLG, and the lexica I have access to—LSJ, LSJ Supplement, Lampe, Trapp, Kriaras.
  • This doesn't prove much of anything, since the point is that Greek compounding is agglutinative and productive, so you can keep stringing words up. We're just happening to go through the long words turning up in Ancient and Mediaeval Greek literature.
  • Do not even think of coming away with the impression that Greek literature makes the longest words in the world—although few if any seem to get anywhere near Aristophanes' monster. The Guinness Book of Records did unearth a word in the Varadambika Parinaya by Tirumalamba in Sanskrit adding up to 428 letters in Roman transliteration. I can't find it (I think this is the Google Books snippet); which is a shame, I wanted to break Blogspot some more...
  • For other languages, have a Facebook thread and a Wikipedia laundry list.
  • I'm sure there's plenty of compounding happening in Modern Greek; I cited in the Quadrupeds (p. 150) the Hellas-L coinage πολυμαθουφοχριστιανοπεοκρουστόπαιδο "polymath UFO Christian penis-stroking lad" (35 chars), which maker poster Constantine Thomas coiner of the sixth longest real Greek word I know of. That… doesn't prove that much either.

What it shows is, there was a Byzantine fad for long compounds, in a couple of genres, though possibly ultimately indebted to Aristophanes; and Aristophanes himself went there more than once.

I'm going to count down the top 40-odd words in length I can find, down to a length of 29 characters, and I'll give their dictionary definitions (where available) and who has used them.

The longest words in English, long enough to be cheating, are protein names. The longest words in Greek outside of Aristophanes, long enough to be cheating, are fractions. They're so boring, dictionaries don't bother to list them at all. So I'm putting them separately:
  1. τριακοντατρισμυριοστοχιλιοστοεπτακοσιοστοεβδομηκοστόεκτα (56 chars), "1/331776", Scholia on Diophantus, 135
  2. μυριοστοεπτακισχιλιοστοπεντακοσιοστοτεσσαρακοστόπεμπτα (54 chars), Trapp: "1/17545", Nicholas Artabasdos "Rhabdas", Letters 34.
  3. μυριοστοτετρακισχιλιοστοεξακοσιοστοτεσσαρακοστόπρωτα (52 chars), Trapp: "1/14641", Scholia on Diophantus, 128
  4. τρισκαιδεκακισμυριοστοτριακοσιοστοεικοστοπρώτων (47 chars), τρισκαιδεκακισμυριοστοτριακοσιοστοεικοστόπρωτα (46 chars), "1/130321", Scholia on Diophantus, 130
  5. τετρακισμυριοστοχιλιοστοεξακοσιοστοεξκαιδέκατον (47 chars), "1/41616", Isaac Argyrus, Περὶ εὑρέσεως τῶν τετραγωνικῶν πλευρῶν τῶν μὴ ῥητῶν τετραγώνων ἀριθμῶν, p. 23
  6. τετρακισμυριοστοτετρακισχιλιοστοοκτακοσιοστόν (45 chars), "1/44800", John Pediasimus (aka John Galenus), Geometry p. 19
  7. τρισχιλιοστοδιακοσιοστοτεσσαρακοστοέννατον (42 chars), "1/3249", Scholia on Diophantus 140
  8. δισμυριοστοδισχιλιοστοτετρακοσιοστόν (36 chars), "1/22400", John Pediasimus, Geometry p. 19
  9. ὀκτακισχιλιοστοεκατοστοεικοστόγδοον (35 chars), "1/8128", Pseudo-David & Pseudo-Elias, Lectures on Porphyry's isagoge, praxis 8 p. 3
  10. ἐννεακαιεικοσικαιεπτακοσιοπλασιάκις (35 chars), LSJ: "seven-hundred-and-twenty-nine times", Plato, Republic 587e.
  11. τετταρακοντακαιπεντακισχιλιοστόν (32 chars), LSJ: "forty-five thousandth" (or: 1/5040), Plato, Laws 877d
  12. τετρακισχιλιοστοεξηκοστοτέταρτον (32 chars), "1/4064", Pseudo-David & Pseudo-Elias, Lectures on Porphyry's isagoge, praxis 8 p. 3
  13. ἐπιτετρακοσιοστοκαιτεσσαρακοστῷ (31 chars), "ratio of 441:440", George Pachymeres, Quadrivium 2.45
  14. χιλιοκτακοσιογδοηκονταπλασίονα (30 chars), LSJ: "eighteen hundred and eighty times as great", Theon of Smyrna De utilitate mathematicae p. 197, citing Hipparchus
  15. τετρακισχιλιοστοενενηκοστόεκτα (30 chars), "1/4096", Scholia on Diophantus 138
  16. διακοσιοστοτεσσαρακοστοτρίτοις (30 chars), Trapp: "1/243", Proclus, Commentary on Plato's Timaeus, Vol. 2 p. 180

And now, the "real" words. Words not (yet) in the TLG are asterisked.
  1. κεραυνομεγακλονοζηνπερατοκοσμολαμπροβελοπλουτοδότα (50 chars), (Luis Muñoz Delgado, Léxico de Magia y Religiòn en los Papiros Mágicos Griegos, 2001) "making great noise with a thunderclap, bounded by the sky, shining rays in the cosmos, and giver of wealth", Magical Papyri 12. The magical papyri have even longer strings of nonsense characters, but this really does count as a word. It's worth taking it apart:
    • κεραυνο "thunder"
    • μεγα "big"
    • κλονο "turmoil"
    • ζην "Zeus"
    • περατο "boundary"
    • κοσμο "cosmos"
    • λαμπρο "shining"
    • βελο "ray"
    • πλουτο "wealth"
    • δότα "giver"
    It's positively Sanskrit...
  2. *ἀκτινοχρυσοφαιδροβροντολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος (47 chars), Trapp: "dressed in golden-shining, thundering and incandescent clothes", Codices graeci Chisiani e Borgiani (ed. P. Franchi de' Cavalieri), 124; Bibliotheca Coisliana (ed. Montfaucon), 59. What astonishes me is that someone chose to use this word a second time…
    • ἀκτινο "ray"
    • χρυσο "gold"
    • φαιδρο "beaming"
    • βροντο "thunder"
    • λαμπρο "bright"
    • φεγγο "shining"
    • φωτο "light"
    • στόλιστος "dressed"
  3. *Ἡρακλειανοκυροσεργιοπυρροπαυλοπετρῖται (38 chars), Trapp: "followers of Heracleus, Cyrus, Sergius, Pyrrhus, Paul and Peter", Scripta saeculi VII vitam Maximi Confessoris illustrantia (ed. P. Allen & B. Neil) 223,378. (Hey, I know them! And the "Heracleus" is in brackets, so some scribe may have decided five leaders were already enough.)
  4. *παναξιοκτηνοπτηναστροφωστηροκοσμοποιία (38 chars), Trapp: "quite worthy creation of animals, birds, stars, celestial bodies and the world", Dioscorus of Aphrodito (ed. Fournier), 40,6
  5. ὀρθροφοιτοσυκοφαντοδικοταλαιπώρων (33 chars), LSJ: "early-prowling base-informing sad-litigious plaguy", Aristophanes Wasps 505. Misquoted by Suda (omicron 581, epsilon iota 68) as ὀρθοφοιτοσυκοφαντοδικοταλαιπώρων (32 chars), "upright-prowling..."
  6. ἀστραποβροντοχαλαζορειθροδαμάστου (33 chars), Lampe: "overcome by lightning, thunder, hail, and flood", Basil of Caesarea, Letters 365
  7. στρογγυλοφιλοσοφογραμματογράφου (31 chars), (not yet in a dictionary) "writer of round philosophical letters", Theodore II Ducas Lascaris, 218 Letters, 128.
  8. σπερμαγοραιολεκιθολαχανοπώλιδες (31 chars), LSJ: "green-grocery-market-woman", Aristophanes Lysistrata 457
  9. *πανυπερπρωτοπανσεβαστοϋπέρτατος (31 chars), Trapp: "above all else and first of all, most highly honoured", Gregory hegumen of Oxia 225,126.
  10. Βρυσωνοθρασυμαχειοληψικερμάτων (30 chars), LSJ: "taking coin like Bryso and Thrasymachus", Ephippus of Athens fr. 14 Kock, cited in Athenaeus 11.120
  11. ἀκτινολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος (30 chars), Trapp: "sparkling with shining light beams", Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopoleos, May 9 section 2
  12. τοξαισελαιοξανθεπιπαγκαπύρωτος (30 chars), "bow-???-oil-blond-on-all-airdried" (ref. to a kind of cake), Philoxenus of Cythera fr. e, cited in Athenaeus 14.50; the edition of Philoxenus by Page marks the word as corrupt
  13. κομπορηματοχρηματομετεωροφέναξ (30 chars), Trapp: "boasting cheat puffed up with words and treasures", John Tzetzes, Letters 4 p. 6
  14. *πανσεβαστοκοσμοποθοπροσκύνητος (30 chars), Trapp: "highly honored and welcomed by the world with longing", Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Graecorum (ed. Beniševič), I 332
  15. ἀκτιστοσυμπλαστουργοσύνθρονον (29 chars), Lampe: "uncreated fellow worker sharing the throne", Gregory Pardus, Exegesis in canonem iambicum de festo die Spiritus Sancti, 25; ἀκτιστοσυμπλαστουργοσύνθρονε (28 chars), Vita of Nicephorus the Doctor 22.
  16. σκοροδοπανδοκευτριαρτοπώλιδες (29 chars), LSJ: "garlic-bread-selling hostess", Aristophanes Lysistrata 458
  17. λογαριαστοπνευματικοοικονόμος (29 chars), Trapp: "invoice controller and religious manager", John Apocaucus, Letters (ed. Bees) 60

Special separate mention goes to Constantine of Rhodes, who wrote a couple of pages of train-carriage–length epithets; I have cited an excerpt elsewhere:
  1. *πρεσβευτοκερδοσυγχυτοσπονδοφθόρος (33 chars), Trapp: "who interferes with the profits of intermediaries and destroys contracts", Constantine of Rhodes (ed. Matranga), 625,25.
  2. *πλαστιγγοζυγοκαμπανοσφαιρωστάτης (32 chars), Trapp: "one who sets the round weight on the steelyard balance with the gold bearing scales and balance beam", ibid. 624,8.
  3. *βαρβιτοναβλοπλινθοκυμβαλοκτύπος (31 chars), Trapp: "playing the barbiton, the nabla, the plinthos (hydraulic organ?), and the cymbals", ibid. 625,21.
  4. *Ἑλληνοθρησοχριστοβλασφημότροπος (31 chars), Trapp: "a character who worshiped the pagan and sinned against Christ", ibid. 624,15.
  5. *κασαλβοπορνομαχλοπρωκτεπεμβάτης (31 chars), Trapp: "one who mounts the arses of whores, prostitutes and courtesans", ibid. 624,11.
  6. *λακτεντοχοιροκριοβουτραγοσφάγος (31 chars), Trapp: "butcher of piglets, pigs, sheep, cattle, and goats", ibid. 624,7.
  7. *ὀλεθριοβιβλοφαλσογραμματοφθόρος (31 chars), Trapp: "ruinous counterfitter of books and destroyer of writing", ibid., 624,12.
  8. *λαρυγγογλασκοξεστοχανδοεκπότης (30 chars), Trapp: "one who gulps down bottles and glasses with an open throat", ibid. 624,10.
  9. *κορνουτοπαρθενοτριβοψυχοφθόρος (30 chars), Trapp: "horned abuser of virgins and destroyer of souls",ibid. 624,10.
  10. *ἀλλαντοχορδοκοιλιεντεροπλύτης (29 chars), Trapp: "washer of entrails [sausage, intestines, bellies, entrails]", ibid., 624,5.
  11. *κλεπτοτυμβονυκτεροσκοτεργάτης (29 chars), Trapp: "one who operates in the dark of night as a grave robber", ibid. 626,25.
  12. *μοιχοπαιδοδουλοσκανδαλεργάτης (29 chars), Trapp: "one who arouses a scandal through lewdness with underage slaves", ibid. 625,24.

12 comments:

  1. I can buy a copy of Varadambika Parinaya for USD 21, but I don't know any Sanskrit. Still, I'd love for this word to be online; if a Sanskritist reads this and is willing to type it in and transliterate it (maybe even gloss it?), do get in touch.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I promise or perhaps I announce that in due course I'm going to hijack this thread and present it in my own blog, challenging people to give other modGreek examples.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Shame I don't have an ASCII Modern Greek dictionary, else I could have included Modern Greek in the sample. (I have spellcheckers, but they won't include the big obscure words.) I look forward to it—after all, I've taken enough from your blog, time for reciprocity. :-)

    Would you impose a constraint of δοκιμότητα, of it being in literary or published use? Or would you accept examples like Hellas-L's?

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  4. We can have several categories, i.e. Anything goes (like C. Thomas' coinage), Attested somewhere, Attested in a δόκιμη source, Attested in dictionary.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Which reminds me of something I realised yesterday, perusing a recent paper Dr Moshe linked to (PDF) on Modern Greek lexicography. Classical and Mediaeval lexicography, being literary, is all about what the word usage is in literature—so you can establish whether a word is of good literary pedigree (δόκιμη).

    Modern Greek lexicography has been slow in getting with modern times, and when it did, it joined the lexicographical mainstream: it's based on corpora of general usage, not corpora of just literature. But when the OED and other dictionaries started in the 19th century, literature was privileged; and certainly odd usage by literary authors was documented. The modern Greek dictionaries don't, any more than COBUILD would.

    So if you're looking for an obscure word used by Kazantzakis or Sikelianos, you're actually out of luck: the contemporary dictionaries avowedly don't do obscure words, as the paper says in passing. That's a bit of a shame. And it means that if any modern authors were coining similarly long words, the contemporary dictionaries won't document them.

    I think that's an indirect consequence of reverse prescriptivism: Greek dictionaries now document how people actually talk, as opposed to literary models—so they underdocument the literary models to compensate.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good point. On the other hand, I guess that contemporary French dictionaries still privilege literature. I have in mind an excellent Dictionnaire des expressions et locutions in the Robert series which is full with examples from literature (obviously including Brassens, for instance or serie noire whodunnits).

    ReplyDelete
  7. Forgot to link to the paper Dr Moshe cited: http://www.linguist-uoi.gr/cd_web/docs/greek/041_trapalisICGL8_OK.pdf

    I would hope a Greek equivalent would go through say Lefteris Papadopoulos; song lyric is our poetry now.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @1: while I'm here in your comment-section anyway…

    I'm not a Sanskritist per se, but I've spent a little time with the language. I see that the Library of Congress is the closest library to me with a copy, though it might be more convenient to wait until I'm up in Boston in May. Still, if no one else gets to it before then, I can shoot for entering the word and its transliteration, and maybe even take a stab at glossing it. (If anyone else has the text, of course—by all means, go ahead!)

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  9. Thanks, but I did actually buy the book and scan it in; see followup.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Aha! so you did (apologies if I keep spamming you with this comment; I'll be back to delete if that's the case)—sorry for not digging around a bit, first. What a beautiful compound!

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  12. No language has any REAL bounds, we make it up especially in Greek which grammaticofficially allows it so. I can make an English word which is "omniguranteeing" or "antilanguagebarrierism" or "comicotragical" OR "extremototalopotentialism".

    Also many components of English language adopted the Greek element of making a word like "comic" with adding a suffix of -o by removing certain characters. Like "comico-" or "malako-".

    Let's not forget that in English even "cockroach-face" counts as word which are those having a dash. Words with dash count.

    Of course there is no such thing as "infinite words". That's impossible. And seriously the longest "English"(which is actually PURELY Latin) word is the chemical compount of Titian that can be also the longest Russian word or the longest German word.

    Nothing is so limited anymore. lol

    ReplyDelete

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