Big Words That Will Impress Your Friends

That's a big word, indeed!

Most of the longest words in the English language are scientific and technical terms, like pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. But what are some long words that you might actually use one day, without having to become a microbiologist or something? We have gathered up over a dozen lengthy words that you might actually come across in the wild (or at least might actually want to use). If you are a sesquipedalian, or hope to become one one day, this slideshow is for you. And to find out what sesquipedalian means, read on.


For a look at the longest words you’re likely never to use, just click here.


Sesquipedalian [ ses-kwi-pi-dey-lee-uhn ] means “given to using long words.” It comes from Latin sesquipedālis meaning “measuring a foot and a half.”


  • The professor was so sesquipedalian that he was often incomprehensible to his students.

The poet Horace, who is credited with coining the term sesquipedalian in Latin, used the word to warn young poets against using overly long and complicated words. Horace, of course, ironically did not take his own advice here to make his point—sesquipedalian itself is 14 letters long.


If someone asks you the meaning of a word, it’s important to have magnanimity [ mag-nuhnim-i-tee ] about it. Magnanimity means “the quality of being generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness.”


  • We hoped that the Queen would show magnanimity and not sentence us to prison for the slight.

The related term magnanimous comes from the Latin for “great-souled.” Impressive.


Speaking of soul, experience the linguistic offerings of soul food by reading about its history and vocabulary.


As we noted, many of the longest terms in English are scientific and or medical terms. Some of these are so complex, it is unlikely you will come across them unless you are in the field. Others you are more likely to encounter, like decompensation [ dee-kom-puhn-sey-shuhn ]. Decompensation means “the inability of a diseased heart to compensate for its defect.”


  • I observed some symptoms of heart decompensation in the patient, including difficulty breathing and leg swelling.

While typically decompensation refers to the heart organ no longer working properly, it can also be used to refer to other organs or a psychological state.


One way long words are created in the English language is by combining different word elements together to create a new word. That’s the case with counterrevolutionary, a combination of counter, revolution, and the suffix –ary. Counterrevolutionary means “opposing a revolution or revolutionary government.”


  • After the revolutionaries came to power, the landed gentry began plotting a counterrevolutionary movement to regain control.


Public policy is another domain where you will find especially long words. An example is deinstitutionalization, meaning “the release of institutionalized people, especially mental health patients, from an institution for placement and care in the community.”


  • Many studies find that deinstitutionalization led to an increase in the number of mentally ill people in prison.


Our next term, transcendentalism [ trans-sen-den-tl-iz-uhm ], also describes an American social experiment, of sorts, from the 19th century. Transcendentalism, or transcendental philosophy, is “a philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual above the empirical.”


  • The group quickly embraced the principles of transcendentalism, including respect of nature and the importance of human effort.

The writers most closely associated with transcendentalism are Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Thoreau.


As you may have gathered, many academic terms are quite long. Even the names of some academic disciplines can get up there in length, like paleoanthropology [ pey-lee-oh-an-thruhpoluh-jee ]. Paleoanthropology is “the study of the origins and predecessors of the present human species, using fossils and other remains.”


  • One of the most important aspects of paleoanthropology is determining whether ancient fossilized remains are Homo sapien or another hominin species.


Learn about other intriguing areas of study and profession with this article on 10 other “-ologist” professions.


Another academic domain with a daunting name is psychophysiology, “the branch of physiology that deals with the interrelation of mental and physical phenomena.” Physiology is the branch of biology that deals with the functions and activities of living organisms.


  • The medical students studied psychophysiology to learn how heart rate is related to a patient’s emotional state.

The psycho- part of the word psychophysiology is a combining form meaning “psyche” or “mind.”


Yet another area where you are likely to find long, complex terminology is in business and economics. That’s where we get the term countercyclical, “opposing the trend of a business or economic cycle; countervailing.” For example, reducing spending when the economy is doing well is an example of a countercyclical economic policy.


  • Our panel of economic advisors recommends that we enact countercyclical infrastructure investment; when the economy is doing poorly, we should spend more on roads and bridges.


Another lengthy term related to economics is profligacy [ prof-li-guh-see ], meaning “reckless extravagance” or “great abundance.”


  • Budget hawks were once again warning that the government’s profligacy was going to increase the nation’s debt.

The word profligacy ultimately comes from the Latin prōflīgātus, meaning “degraded” or “debased.”


Philosophy and theology are also great sources for long words. One example is palingenesist [ pal-in-jenuh-sist ], “a person who believes in a doctrine of rebirth or transmigration of souls.”

  • The palingenesist Plutarch believed that the soul is reborn into another body after death, a theory known as metempsychosis.

(Bonus big word: metempsychosis!)

The original use of the word palingenesis, or the continual rebirth of the universe, dates back to ancient Greek philosophers known as the Stoics.


Another long word we can thank the Greeks for is palimpsest [ pal-imp-sest ], from Greek palímpsēstos, meaning “rubbed again.” The word palimpsest in English originally meant “a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.”


  • Scholars use sophisticated equipment like optical scanners to read the remains of erased texts on Medieval palimpsests.

These days, palimpsest is most often used figuratively to mean “something that has a new layer, aspect, or appearance that builds on its past and allows us to see or perceive parts of this past.”


Our third to the last word in this slideshow is, appropriately, antepenultimate [ an-tee-pi-nuhl-tuh-mit ]. Antepenultimate means “third from the end.”


  • I was relieved to see that I was slated to be the antepenultimate speaker, so I would only have to wait for two more presentations after my own.

The word antepenultimate ultimately comes from the Latin antepaenultima meaning “the second (syllable) from the last.”


Some long words are just fun to say. That’s the case with dodecaphonism, “musical composition using the 12-tone technique.” Dodecaphonism [ doh-dekuh-fuh-niz-uhm ] is a composition technique that uses all 12 notes of the chromatic scale and is atonal.


  • The dodecaphonism in the composer’s work created a strange and unsettling feeling in the listeners.


A particularly long word that we hope you find a lot of good use for is amelioration, “an act or instance of making better.”


  • We were hopeful that the move would lead to an amelioration of our living conditions and a better quality of life overall.

Funnily enough, amelioration [ uh-meel-yuh-rey-shuhn ] and melioration mean the exact same thing.

Time for a quiz!

These lengthy terms can be challenging. You can review them all at our word list here. Or you can take our big word quiz here to test your sesquipedalian skills.


Time to read up on other words that are just as cool (if not as long)!

Click to read more
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