A word 3½ hours long

If you’d asked me as a child how long it would take to speak the longest word in the English language, I’d have guessed a couple of seconds. Antidisestablishmentarianism would have come to mind, as the longest word in my pocket Collins dictionary at the time, or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious if “made-up” words were allowed.

Later I met other odd giants, like pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis with their unmistakeably medical morphemes. All these words (Mary Poppins aside) are known chiefly for being very long – but with a bit of practice you could voice any of them in a single breath.

They’re mere pipsqueaks compared with some chemical names, which are probably not words in a strict sense but are impressively massive all the same – especially the protein Titin, aka connectin, whose chemical name begins Methionylalanylthreonylseryl… and goes on like that for 189,819 letters. In this remarkable video, Dmitry Golubovskiy reads it in its entirety. It takes him just over 3½ hours:

You can read along here.

I didn’t watch the whole thing. After a couple of minutes I skipped ahead a bit, then watched the finale. His beard visibly darkens over the course of the performance, and he looks decidedly dazed at the end. The flowers wilt suddenly at 2:09:21 in a cut that suggests a bathroom break, or maybe a breather for sanity’s sake.

Hat-tip to @emordino for the video.

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21 Responses to A word 3½ hours long

  1. Great finding but a bit of theater in the reading. A healty flower doesn’t die in 3.5 hours. See that in the point 2h 9m the flower collapses as well as the image. Fishy…

  2. Roger says:

    Unfamiliar makes one stumble. Iceland’s Eyafjallajokull did that in 2010, even though it is only a string of N. Germanic syllables; it was unfamiliar and teased the lips. Wiki gives a nice breakdown of each syllable’s meaning.
    “Kamchatka” was a challenge for at least one broadcaster a few years ago when KAL007 went down on the far side of the unfamiliar.
    That’s probably the charm of Atlas Gazetteers — they present the world’s languages through placenames, along with a bit of history.

  3. Stan says:

    Roger: That’s true, of course: unfamiliarity with word or language, or both, can be a factor. I wonder if Golubovskiy did a dry run reading Titin’s chemical name, or just practised the first few lines…

  4. Linus Band says:

    I love it how at the end of the video he just gets up and walks away. No cheering. No sigh of relief. Nothing.
    Another thing: I find calling this the longest word in the English language a bit strange. It is international scientific terminology with a Russian pronunciation. If we were to ascribe it to a language, shouldn’t it be Russian? That’s the least we can do for the poor bloke that read the whole thing :P

  5. This morning I started writing a comment containing statistical analysis of the chemical name, but it soon became too long for a comment, so I recorded my calculations and wrote them up as a blog post this evening. But now that I’ve written the draft, it doesn’t seem worth publishing — it’s just a lot of stats, really — so I’m going to sleep on it. Meanwhile, I will take your opinion into account: should I or shouldn’t I?

    My analysis concludes with the generation of nonsense text with statistical properties derived from the chemical name. It comes out something like Tysyllap uys glamy mytyneralglu lineune. Syvine ililil nergler nalylyne titu rultilup. Vuli lypeni gleinar glasgle natona. This is how we would talk if English were invented by chemists.

  6. Stan says:

    Linus: I like the ending too. It’s admirably understated. Not a cheer, a fistpump, or even a smile. As for the language, I thought English was the IUPAC default, but I’m open to correction.

    postoyalec: Thanks for pointing that out.

    Adrian: I don’t know. Your blog; your call. It sounds quite interesting in a trivial-statistical sense. I’ll read it, anyway.

  7. […] Carey has a blog post about the length of the chemical name of the largest known protein, considered as though it were a […]

  8. Eggs in Oz says:

    Reblogged this on Eggs in Oz and commented:
    Part of an unusual education – proteins! Eggs are a good source of protein, though I’m not sure they include this one!

  9. There are longer proteins than that one. Probably best not to tell him though. And he could also try the nucleotide sequence of his DNA…

  10. BenHemmens says:

    Of course, that is just the trivial names of the amino acid residues constituting the protein. The IUPAC name would be a more impressive challenge (i.e. spelling out the structure of every amoni acid).

    On the subject of how to roound off a long performance, a politician in the Austrian parliament, Werner Kogler, once held a 12-hour filibuster and concluded with the words: Das ist eigentlich alles, was ich sagen wollte, i.e.. ” actually, that’s all I wanted to say”.

  11. BenHemmens says:

    Yeah. I know the guy. He talks, as we say, like a waterfall.

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