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mattbrowne's avatar

Proper nouns represent unique entities in the world around us - Why are there proper nouns with more than 25 or even 40 characters?

Asked by mattbrowne (31719points) April 9th, 2009

Human beings developed language to communicate with each other. But communication makes only sense when everyone understands all words and is able to memorize them reasonable well. We also like to save time when communicating, so people invented acronyms like LOL or DINKY. Therefore it really seems very odd to me that some proper nouns are exceptionally long. I mean long to the point of being absurd. I wonder why they were invented that way and survived that long.

I’d like to start a thoughtful discussion and am looking for a thoughtful exploration of this topic.

Here are a few examples of proper nouns:

1) Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg is a lake in Massachusetts (native American origin, on a side note: even Massachusetts seems a bit cruel, especially when younger kids have to learn the spelling)

2) Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is supposedly a medical term which means ‘a lung disease caused by the inhalation of very fine silica dust causing inflammation in the lungs.’

3) Zaumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu is the Maori name for a hill in New Zealand

There are also examples of other words which are not proper nouns, ridiculously long like ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ which is a movement opposing disestablishment.

Why did these words survive? Why weren’t they replaced with something a lot easier? Let’s face it, we even use acronmys like US, because United States seems too long.

What is your opinion on the subject? Do you know any very long words that have struck you as rather odd?

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26 Answers

Zen's avatar

Just a snafu, imho, fubar.

squirbel's avatar

snafu… what does that mean? I always assumed it was a word, as opposed to an acronym. But seeing as how you’ve used it with two other acronyms I know…

omgwtfbbq – that name for the hill is looong.

It’s better than supercalifrajilisticexpialidocious.

I believe proper nouns persist because they carry some sacredness [bs’ing here, can you tell?]

qashqai's avatar

Matt, how much time do you usually spend surfing wikipedia?

squirbel's avatar

i please to laff nao? lol

Zen's avatar

@qashqai Matt doesn’t surf wikipedia, he has a stake in it, and lives there 6 months of the year in a time-share.

mattbrowne's avatar

@qashqai – Whenever I research a topic I’m interested in and need to get a good overview first. For subjects I want to dig into deeper I (like astrophysics) I use other sources on the web. Do you dislike Wikipedia?

Strauss's avatar

I have known of the existence of the word “Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” since I was young, and wanted to impress my peers with the fact that “antidisestablishmentarianism” was not the longest word in the dictionary. I always thought that that “P” word was technically a common noun, not capitalized except at the beginning of a sentence. I think your “C” word and your “Z” word would be considered proper nouns, being specific place names, comparable to Chicago and Zimbabwe. One reference I’ve seen refers to the “p” word as an artificial word. When I have looked it up using other sources over the years (sorry I can’t cite them specifically) have not made that statement. I believe it is a bona fide medical term and as such would not be capitalized if we were to truly use it in a sentence. e.g.

“The doctor theorized that the miner’s lung cancer had sprung from his pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.”

Zen's avatar

snafu and fubar are in the dictionary, the first is a military acronym, the second a computer.

Snafu and fubar can be looked up.

Strauss's avatar

Snafu=situation normal, all “F“ed up.
Fubar=“F“ed up beyond all recognition.

I came across both definitions when I was in the military in the ‘60’s.

Zen's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Then I stand corrected, I assumed fubar was a computer technician’s response to , well, anything.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Yetanotheruser – I see your point. Yes, medical terms should not be considered proper nouns. Thanks for the link to

Strauss's avatar

@Zen I think the expression, like many others, found its way into general use. I can see why it would seem to be a term related to technical things.

Zen's avatar

That’s okay. I suck. But I’m a quick study.

phoenyx's avatar

@Zen “foobar” is the computer geek term which is pronounced the same, but usually means something different than “fubar.” Also, “foo”, “bar”, and “baz” tend to be how we refer to thingy #1, thingy #2 and thingy #3 when we are talking about stuff at work. See also the wikipedia article about it.

aprilsimnel's avatar

You should be happy you don’t live in Wales, @mattbrowne! :D

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the name of a town.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Yetanotheruser – What do you mean by NP? Noun phrase in a syntax tree? Or is it Internet slang?

mattbrowne's avatar

@aprilsimnel – What a great name! So when the people born in this Welch town fill out a form (e.g. on a airplane headed for the US, you know those wonderful green or white ones) they require a extra space or they use letters so small the guy at the customs inspection desk needs a magnifying glass ;-)

I don’t live in Wales, but here in Germany we have words like Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz or Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft so even the acronyms like RFEÜAÜG are too hard to memorize.

Strauss's avatar

Internet slang. We’re on the internet, aren’t we?

morphail's avatar

pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis seems to be a fabrication – it was invented as an example of a very long word.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Yetanotheruser – Still a bit of a puzzle. So the internet slang meaning of NE is ANY?

Strauss's avatar

@mattbrowne I’m not a big fan or expert when it comes to the use of internet slang, but there are a few examples that I use from time to time. NP=no problem, IDK=I don’t know, and a couple others. While I usually eschew the use of internet slang or abbreviations, these seem to have crept into my online vocabulary out of convenience. Sorry for any confusion.

mattbrowne's avatar

@mattbrowne – No problem about No problem ;-) I also ran an acronym search restricting it to slang only. It’s amazing what else shows up for NP:

Not Possible
Now Playing
No Point
Neopoints (Neopets)
No Page
Nintendo Power
No Post
Nail Polish
No penalty
No Parking
Number of Pitches (baseball)
No Patience

linguaphile's avatar

No, no, no! Careful, someone might have hippomonstrosesquippedaliophobia here. That’s a noun…

Strauss's avatar

And if they did, would they be called “hippomonstrosesquippedaliophobic”? That would be the equivalent adjective. And if some trauma caused the condition, would they be “hippomonstrosesquippedaliophobicized”? That’s a verb!

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