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I have heard of this word as cited to contain the most i's of all English words. I had never heard of it before, but when I copied and pasted it into my email program, lo and behold, the picky spellchecker didn't bat an eyelid!

Has anyone ever seriously used this word, or any other word of comparable length? How in the world did my spellchecker know about a word nobody will ever use?

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It is cited as being the longest non-technical English word. Perhaps that is why it is in the spell checker... –  mplungjan Jun 21 '11 at 16:08
    
My question is: is it really an English word if no one uses it? –  Daniel Jun 21 '11 at 16:12
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Yes, because words that are archaic or otherwise deprecated in favor of a more common term are still seen in older English texts, therefore they still belong to English. "Modern" English is relative, but generally any words in use as of the Renaissance or later count. –  KeithS Jun 21 '11 at 16:16
    
The question is, what do people mean by "English" when they do not qualify the word? Maybe unqualified "English" extends to the Renaissance, maybe it doesn't. It depends on the context. For instance, take the sentence "I'm going to the USA on an exchange program, to improve my English". Does we understand that to mean Shakespeare's English? –  Kaz May 11 '13 at 22:38
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your spellchecker didn't bat an eyelid because it is simply comparing that word to a list of known properly-spelled words. Despite there being about a quarter-million words in the English language, plus about another 50,000 proper nouns which are commonly included in spelling dictionaries and about another 50,000 "common" technical terms, when properly sorted and indexed it is trivial for a computer to perform a check of each word against this list in real time. On the flip side of that coin, the spell-checker feature of whatever application you use would take a severe credibility hit if the user entered a known good word that the dictionary didn't know about and marked as incorrectly spelled. So, to be on the safe side, the spell checker developers included a dictionary of every word and term, however unlikely the user is to ever type that word.

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Ideally of course you don't want the spell checker to have too many words. Wether is perfectly correct - it's a term for a male goat - but I probably wanted whether. –  mgb Jun 21 '11 at 21:08
    
Most spell checkers can also detect context; in the place of a noun, you want "wether", but in the context of a conjunction you want "whether". But you're right; type "wether" into almost any spell-checker and you'll be told it's misspelled. If you use the term often enough you can always add it to the dictionary; caveat emptor in that case. –  KeithS Jun 21 '11 at 21:15
    
Interesting answer, but don't kid yourself into thinking that spell checkers never flag legitimate words. I often get flagged for words that are spelled correctly - perhaps I'm using a relatively uncommon prefix, or the adverbial form of a word, or something well-accepted in the scientific community - but the red squiggles show up under a perfectly spelled word. Try typing The qubit was pulled bidirectionally into your word processor, and see what happens. –  J.R. Mar 14 '12 at 21:03
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Wiktionary defines it as:

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...".

As for the reason for it being introduced in your spellchecker... well... Easter egg?

EDIT: actually floccinaucinihilipilification is listed in the OED, with examples dating back to the 18th century. So, well, it's a rare English word and was probably dumped in the spellchecker dictionary from a big list of words, used or not.

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So in fact it's a neo-Latin word more than English. –  Kaz May 11 '13 at 23:32
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It's not as if nobody has ever used it. Look, we're using it now! It's in all of my larger dictionaries, too.

And here's a Google NGram showing it's appeared in print since around 1920:

enter image description here

So even if most of the mentions of the word are meta-discussions like this one, it still exists in English. It doesn't fall trippingly off the tongue, and I've never heard it at, say, a garden party. Yet it exists, and you can thank your spellchecker for at least having a sense of completeness as well as (possibly) a sense of humor.

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How is this not a common English word. I use it regularly to describe the actions of my wife who is the most practised floccinaucinihilipilificationalist I have ever encountered. As she cleans the house she floccinaucinihilipilificationalistically assesses the casually misplaced detritus of both myself and our offspring, causing us no end of anxiety over the unexpected loss of prized possessions. The only problem I see with the more regular use of 'floccinaucinihilipilification' is the common misconception that it is the longest word in the English language. See above for longer examples :-)

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Don't floccinaucinihilipilificationalize my question. –  Daniel May 12 '13 at 1:50
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