Tuesday 9 August 2011


The second in our week of long words is floccinaucinihilipilification, which is the act of believing something to be worthless. Unlike yesterday's Hottentottenpotentatentantenattentat, floccinaucinihilipilification is actually rather useful. You can say: "I was very offended by his floccinaucinihilipilification of my poetry."

In fact, I once managed to work floccinaucinihilipilification into an essay at university - the context was something along the lines of "Goneril and Regan's floccinaucinihilipilification of kingship". Bill Clinton's press secretary managed it too. Whilst talking about the economy in 1995 he said:

They happen to produce huge billion dollar differences over seven years in the federal budget, which is why they become fairly incendiary as the debate goes along. But if you—as a practical matter of estimating the economy, the difference is not great. There's a little bit of floccinaucinihilipilification going on here.

The etymology is quite simple: it's four Latin words that all meant worthless: flocci means a tuft of wool (as in floccilation which I wrote about here), nauci means trifle, nihil means nothing and pili means a hair. These were all synonyms to the Romans, and were listed together in a standard Latin textbook of the eighteenth century. Hence the word.

There's a related verb, floccipend, which means to regard as insignificant. And even more lovely, if you are lady habitually given to floccinaucinihilipilification, you are a floccinaucinihilipilificatrix.

An act of floccinaucinihilipilification

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