Another morsel for #TalkLikeShakespeare Day

Today my Word of the Day from the OED is

honorificabilitudinity, n.

[‘ Honourableness.’]

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌɒnəˌrɪfᵻkəˌbɪlᵻtjuːˈdɪnᵻti/, U.S. /ˌɑnəˌrɪfᵻkəˌbɪlᵻt(j)uˈdɪnᵻdi/

Etymology: <  post-classical Latin honorificabilitudinitas honourableness (13th cent. in British and continental sources) <  honorificabilitudin-honorificabilitudo honourableness (in a charter of 1187 in Du Cange; <  honorificabilis honourable (7th cent.; <  honorificare honorify v. + classical Latin -bilis -ble suffix) + classical Latin -t?d? -tude suffix) + classical Latin -it?s -ity suffix.

In a number of texts from the 16th and 17th centuries the Latin ablative plural honorificabilitudinitatibus is cited as an example of a very long word: compare Complaynt of Scotland (1548–9), Prolog. lf. 14 b, Shakespeare Love’s Labours Lost (1598) v. i. 41 (see quot. 1598 at head n.1 1b(a)), and Marston Dutch Courtezan (1605) v. H. The Latin form honorificabilitudinitate (ablative singular) is similarly mentioned in Dante De Vulgari Eloquentia (c1305) ii. vii.  [And we get some Dante as a bonus!]

Compare the following example of the Latin word in an English context:

1599  T. Nashe Lenten Stuffe 24 Physitions deafen our eares with the Honorificabilitudinitatibus of their heauenly Panachæa their soueraigne Guiacum. Honourableness.
Now rare in regular usage, but freq. cited as an example of an unusually long word, or (incorrectly) as the longest word in the English language. Sometimes with reference to Shakespeare’s use of the Latin word (see etymology).

1656  T. Blount GlossographiaHonorificabilitudinity, honorableness. [Also in later dictionaries].

1785  T. Holcroft Choleric Fathers ii. 38 This vast honorificabilitudinity Commands my esteem!

1800  in Spirit of Public Jrnls. (1801) 4 147 The two longest monosyllables in our language are strength and straight, and the very longest word, honorificabilitudinity.

1823  J. Lunn Horæ Jocosæ 43 No honorificabilitudinity Or wealth could suffice To content her.

1908 Denver Med. Times & Utah Med. Jrnl. Jan. 345 Long words (of which the longest is honorificabilitudinity, latinized by Shakespeare).

2005 Province (Vancouver, Brit. Columbia) (Nexis) 15 Mar. a20 Students might consider the old-fashioned spelling bee as nothing more than floccinaucinihilipilification. Well, we see it more as an act of honorificabilitudinity.

In the aforementioned play there is one of the Bard’s famous quotes, followed by the WOTD in question:


[Aside to COSTARD] They have been at a great feast
of languages, and stolen the scraps.


O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words.
I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word;
for thou art not so long by the head as
honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier
swallowed than a flap-dragon.

Talk Like Shakespeare at least once today.

Flap DragonBTW… “flap-dragon” was a game played in Shakespeare’s day. If you want to play at home, you’ll also need a fire extinguisher, ice, and ointments. Put heated brandy in a bowl with raisins and set the liquid on fire. Turn off the lights. Take turns plucking the raisins from the flaming booze! Fun for all! This game is also mentioned in Henry IV Part II (which the DVD is languishing on my wish list, as Preserved Killick would add):


Because their legs are both of a bigness, and a’
plays at quoits well, and eats conger and fennel,
and drinks off candles’ ends for flap-dragons, and
rides the wild-mare with the boys, and jumps upon
joined-stools, and swears with a good grace, and
wears his boots very smooth, like unto the sign of
the leg, and breeds no bate with telling of discreet
stories; and such other gambol faculties a’ has,
that show a weak mind and an able body, for the
which the prince admits him: for the prince himself
is such another; the weight of a hair will turn the
scales between their avoirdupois.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. KateD says:

    Honorificabilitudinity-expialidocious! If you say it loud enough you’ll always sound precocious…

  2. Someone please be the Garrigue says:

    My favourite is not from Shakespeare, but from about the same time. “For Iohn the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking vvine: and you say, He hath a deuil. The sonne of man came eating and drinking: and you say, Behold a man that is a gurmander and a drinker of vvine, a frende of Publicans and sinners.” (Luke 7:33-34 Rheims 1582).

  3. Sonshine135 says:

    Languages are absolutely fascinating. None moreso than English. Very few languages are such an absolute hodgepodge of words borrowed from so many different languages: Germanic, French (Norman), Latin, and Greek. Listening to something read in old English and Middle English- then read in Modern English is quite an experience. I think of my ancestors who lived in the days after the Norman conquest in England and realize that I would barely understand a single word they would speak.

  4. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I’ve somehow got the idea that you tossed the flaming flapdragons in the air and tried to catch them in your mouth (hey kids, don’t try this at home! – no, really, don’t!). And I somehow associate that idea with the Boy reminiscing about Falstaff, “Do you not remember, ‘a saw a flea stick upon Bardolph’s nose, and ‘a said it was a black soul burning in hell?” (Henry V, II.iii) – as if the flea were a flapdragon landed awry.

    I also think of “Boerenjongens”, which you can easily buy by the jarful in some places, as ‘snapdragon ammo’, though I don’t know if the commercial sort would easy catch fire if warmed, or not:


  5. Mariana2 says:

    A less finger-burning version of flap-dragon would be Warschauer Tod (Warsawian Death), a 19th century German thing, where you place two swords, crossed, over a bowl of punch, and on the swords a sugar cone drenched in some alcoholic liquid, set fire to the sugar cone, and dance around the punch bowl as the sugar melts into it.

  6. CrimsonCatholic says:

    There is a Shakespeare and Christianity Celebration at Aquinas College in Nashville, that features Joseph Pierce speaking on several aspects of the Christians, specifically Catholic, themes in Shakespeare’s writing. Pierce is known for his books “The Quest for Shakespeare” and “Through Shakespeare’s Eyes.”

  7. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Crimson Catholic reminds me of the work of Fr. Peter Milward on Shakespeare, none of which, sadly, I have had the opportunity of reading, but an extensive, detailed Checklist of which his English Wikipedia article links, as well as his online autobiography. (It had not been updated since September, but the French one was updated last month, so we may hope he is well in his 89th year!)

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