I am about to disclose something that might out me as a closet nerd. A risky proposition to be sure, but I am willing to take this bullet for the common good. Having been adequately warned, allow me to share my dirty little secret with you. I secretly enjoy exploring the etymology of words, specifically the etymology of obscure and peculiar words. This little quirk of mine manifests itself in the strangest of ways, not the least of which is my tendency to ask, “Do you happen to know the second longest word in the English language?”
I know it’s an odd question. Convention would be to ask about the longest word. However, who really cares about a fabricated 45 letter monstrosity1 describing an occupational lung disease? No one, that’s who. But when it comes to the second longest word, well that is an entirely different story. Not only does the 29 letter 18th century word have an amusing origin, but it holds relevance for our daily life.
Floccinaucinihilipilification (click HERE for pronunciation) was coined by the pupils at Eton College. As they poured over their Eton Latin Grammar text they came across a list of words which in order were: flocci, nauci, nihili, and pili. All of these Latin words had similar meanings in that they described something of little or no value. As academics with too much time on their hands tend to do they thought it would be fun to slap all four words together and stick –fication on the end to produce a new noun. Presto change-o four small words used to describe tiny insignificant things were recycled to form one mega word. By definition Floccinaucinihilipilification describes the act or habit of regarding something as unimportant, having no value, being totally and utterly worthless.
Now some might argue that floccinaucinihilipilification describes its own usefulness as a word – utterly worthless. However, I disagree with that assessment. Although you will not find it in the Bible, I believe floccinaucinihilipilification is very much a Biblical term. How, you might ask, could I say that? Well, the Pauline equivalent can be found in Phil 3:8.
Phil 3:8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
Here we have Paul comparing all of the advantages of his heritage, citizenship and education to rubbish—literally dung—when viewed in the light of the magnificence of knowing Christ. Paul does not claim the rewards of this world to be of second importance to the knowledge of Christ. On the contrary, he is practiced at regarding all things—the world’s goods, substance, riches, fame, pleasures and pomp—as valueless in light of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
Lest we think Paul is alone in his floccinaucinihilipilification of worldly benefits, let us look to Solomon. Here was a man who knew the best the world had to offer, and his ultimate verdict was, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” With all of the world’s imagined worth, imagined pleasure and imagined gain, Solomon could, to quote the Rolling Stones, “get no satisfaction.” In all of his testing and indulging Solomon discovered something vitally important; the world without Christ is a very unsatisfying place. Fellow Christian, it would pay for us to remember this lesson well.
Although I have been “nerding out” in this post, I do hope you look beyond that to see the ultimate point of my ramblings. The Christian life is one marked by judging many things as worthless, not inherently, but comparatively when weighed against all we have in Christ. Whether it’s the pleasures or the pains (Rom 8:18) of life, both are eclipsed by the glory to be found in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This truth should be both treasured and paraded through our hearts as often as possible, lest we forget, and allow the cares of this world to choke out the truths we once held dear (Matt 13:22). Imagine the freedom to be experienced when you place all things in their proper perspective in Christ. Armed with your newfound knowledge, you too should go out and ask someone if they know the second longest word in the English language. It is a powerful concept, and it just might lead to a wonderful witnessing opportunity.
- The longest word in the English dictionary is Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. The president of the National Puzzlers’ League created it for the purpose of representing a very large word. It is another name for a lung disease normally called silicosis. ↩