“Sesquipedalian” means polysyllabic, long-winded, bombastic, grandiloquent, or florid. Antonyms are: monosyllabic, laconic, brief, brachysyllabic, terse. The first known use of sesquipedalian was in 1656. The word “sesquipedalian” is, in fact, sesquipedalian.

Horace, the Roman poet and satirist, was merely being gently ironic when he cautioned young poets against using sesquipedalia verba –-“words a foot and a half long”– in his book Ars poetica, a collection of maxims about writing. But in the 1600s, English literary critics used the word for lambasting writers using very long words. Robert Southey wrote, “The verses of Stephen Hawes are full of barbarous sesquipedalian Latinisms.”

Somebody who uses long words is a sesquipedalianist, and this style of writing is sesquipedalianism. The noun sesquipedality means “lengthiness.” If such words are not enough, there’s always hyperpolysyllabicsesquipedalianist for someone who enjoys using really long words. And, for the fear of such words, it’s “sesquipedalophobia,” often exaggerated by people into “hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.”

Antidisestablishmentarianism is a sesquipedalia: in fact it’s the longest non-coined and nontechnical word in the English language. Many such words were used in Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, who has been quoted as saying, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”

Writers especially love playing with long words. Shakespeare, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, used a 27-letter long word, honorificabilitudinitatibus. It means the capability to be honored, and is considered as one of the longest words in literature. Aristophanes, a comedic playwright, created a long Greek word of about 171 letters, meaning a dish consisting of different ingredients, like fish, dainties, sauces, and flesh. You know, “stew.”

“Sesquipedalian loquaciousness”: A predilection by the intelligentsia to engage in the manifestation of prolix exposition through a buzzword disposition form of communication notwithstanding the availability of more comprehensible, punctiliously applicable, diminutive alternatives. You know, “motor mouth.”

If I did a paragraph like that I’d be writing Purple Prose. Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t be able to pronounce half the words!

  One thought on “sesquipedalian

  1. October 7, 2020 at 7:31 am

    I had to practise saying : Sesquipedalia. Wonderful newish word for my vocabulary.


    • October 7, 2020 at 8:00 am

      So did I. I think it’s a wonderful word, too. It has rhythm!


  2. Leanne Taylor
    October 7, 2020 at 12:58 pm

    I especially like the James Joyce quote – his plan. 🙂

    Yes, what a fun one to pronounce!
    I practiced saying “sesquipedialian loquaciousness” for a bit …
    Then just “had to” see what sesquipedalian is in Spanish: 🙂
    It’s the same — without the “n”.
    How’s it pronounced? Yikes! Never mind. :-))


    • October 7, 2020 at 1:35 pm

      I liked the James Joyce quote, too. I said “sesquipedalian” so many times while I was writing the article that it rolls off the tongue easily now. But yes, I’ll pass on trying the Spanish version.


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