I recently saw this question Did the "We shall fight on the beaches" speech mainly use words from Old English? If so, why? about Winston Churchill's famous "Fight them on the beaches" speech that said the speech mostly used words from Old English because they are simpler than most of the ones borrowed from French and Latin.

I'd really like to ask what the most complicated word is from Old English but that's far too subjective. What is the longest word still in use in today's English that comes from Old English? I will accept an answer either in terms of spelling or number of syllables. Proper nouns are not included. The word also should be of Germanic origin rather than being an Old English borrowing from Latin or French.

  • Does it need to have been one word in Old English as well?
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 7:32
  • @sumelic how do you define "word" for this purpose?
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 7:33
  • @phoog: I'd think CJ Dennis's definitions are more relevant. But I'd just define it by spacing, which was generally used in Old English texts.
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 7:35
  • @sumelic I guess both compound and non-compound words would be interesting. Preferably the word should be as close as possible to Old English. In this case I would consider something like zig zag as a single word despite the space.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 7:44
  • 1
    @sumelic No. I want words that have a meaning. I live in Australia, so a place name from England mightn't mean anything to me, whereas a word (adjective, verb, etc.) from Old English could mean the same thing to all Modern English speakers.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 8:03

1 Answer 1


Longest words I've found so far:

  • thousandfold (12 letters, three syllables); the Oxford English dictionary says it is from Old English þúsendfeald
  • drunkenness (11 letters, three syllables): Old English druncenness; there also are attested cases of oferdruncenness which would be even better if it were a modern English word
  • overshadow (10 letters, four syllables): Old English ofersceadwian

With the suffix -ly (not sure if these count as they are transparently composed of modern English adjectives plus a modern English suffix, so there's no way to prove continuity of transmission as a whole from Old English):

  • shamelessly (11 letters, 3 syllables) pretty much seems to mean the same thing as sceamleáslíce according to Bosworth-Teller
  • soothsayingly (13 letters, 4 syllables): not commonly used in Modern English, also has changed meaning; Old English sóþsecgendlíce just meant "truly" according to Bosworth-Teller
  • unweatherly (11 letters, 4 syllables): The Oxford English Dictionary has a citation from 1889, "R. L. Stevenson Master of Ballantrae ix, About the top of it ran considerable bulwarks, which made the ship unweatherly." Old English unwederlíce means "in a way that indicates bad weather, threateningly" according to Bosworth-Teller

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