Sunday, 29 August 2010

Pertaining to eleven.

We all know the sequence which begins primary, secondary, but what comes after?

Rarely used it continues tertiary, quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, denary, giving us all the way up to ten. There is also duodenary which relates to twelve but there is no word for eleven and never has been.

Any suggestions?

Friday, 20 August 2010

A Billion, More or Less

When I was young I had a 'pocket encyclopaedia' given to me when my parents bought my first school uniform before heading off to grammar school. Of course 'pocket encyclopaedia' is a contradiction in terms, however it did feature one interesting point which I well recall thinking must have caused much confusion between nations. Recently the problem came back to mind and I thought I would share.

The problem concerned the billion which, as we all know, equates to one thousand million or 1,000,000,000. However in those far off days of the 1960s this was common to Continental Europe and the USA, while good old Blighty used one million million or 1,000,000,000,000.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Q can exist without U

A number of words containing the letter 'q' have come from other languages to be included in the English dictionary, thus making them the only words to feature 'q' and not followed by 'u'.

niqab - a veil worn by some Muslim women
qanat - (in the Middle East) an irrigation channel
qawwal - a performer of qawwali
qawwali - Muslim devotional music
qibla - the direction towards Mecca
qigong - a Chinese system of physical exercises
qintar - a monetary unit of Albania
QWERTY - the standard layout of typewriters and keyboards (the only word not imported)
tariqa - the Sufi method of spiritual learning

Any others?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Singular Plurals

When you get to thinking about oddities of words a string of peculiarities occur. Hence I make no apologies for continuing the theme.

There are many English words which only exist in the plural or do have a form without that final 's' but which has a different meaning or used in an utterly different context. I came up with the following list, any others?

Bellows, binoculars, forceps, gallows, glasses, pliers, scissors, shears, tongs, braces, briefs, jeans, knickers, pants, pyjamas, shorts, tights, trousers, economics, physics, ethics, entrails, hustings.

Any more?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Longest English Words

Further to my earlier post, further research has produced a number of other examples of candidates for 'the longest words - a little fun, nothing more.

antidisestablishmentarianism opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England - 28 letters

floccinaucinihilipilification the estimation of something as worthless - 29 letters

pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis a supposed lung disease - 44 letters

You're unlikely to come across these words in genuine use: they're generally just provided as answers to questions about the longest words in the English language.

In terms of sheer size, however, the longest word to be found in Britain is the Welsh place name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. For obvious reasons, it's usually abbreviated to Llanfair PG.

The 20-volume historical Oxford English Dictionary includes other very long words, most of which are highly technical. These include:

otorhinolaryngological - 22 letters
immunoelectrophoretically - 25 letters
psychophysicotherapeutics - 25 letters
thyroparathyroidectomized - 25 letters
pneumoencephalographically - 26 letters
radioimmunoelectrophoresis - 26 letters
psychoneuroendocrinological - 27 letters
hepaticocholangiogastrostomy - 28 letters
spectrophotofluorometrically - 28 letters
pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism - 30 letters

People sometimes ask whether a DNA string can be considered as the longest English word, given that they can run to many thousands of letters. The answer is no: they're regarded as chemical names rather than genuine words in the sense of meaningful items of vocabulary. The same is true of the formal names of chemical compounds. These can be almost unlimited in length (for example, aminoheptafluorocyclotetraphosphonitrile, 40 letters) and many contain numerals, Roman and Greek letters, and other symbols, as well as ordinary letters. We don't tend to regard these terms as proper 'words'.