Schoenanthed

 

Although I was a bit of a burn-out early in college, I blossomed into a nerd partway through, and one year, my parents bought me the Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM. It required a 3.5-inch diskette to run a program that would search the data CD and display the definitions and etymologies. It was marvelous, and I enjoyed digging through it to understand the history and nuance of words I knew or had come across in my reading and to discover new words.

A professor once brought up the matter of the longest one-syllable word in the English language, which he proclaimed to be “broughammed.” A Brougham was originally a type of carriage and was later a type of car. To be driven around in a Brougham was to be broughammed. Eleven letters, one syllable, edging out “squirreled (or tying “squirrelled”).

I wanted to find a longer one-syllable word, so I dove into the OED, figuring that words starting with nasty consonant clusters would be good candidates. I found “Schœnanth,” which is a sweet scented grass of Asia formerly used in medicine, also known as camel’s-hay. I reasoned that to be fed schœnanth was to be schœnanthed. Twelve letters, one syllable, a clear winner, for if you can take liberties and verb a word like Brougham, surely you can do the same with a word like schœnanth.

There is one little complicating technicality that probably makes my find a tie at best. That little “oe” is written actually as an “œ,” and it’s not clear to me whether it represents a single letter or two letters when so written. So it may be merely eleven letters and one syllable after all. Still, I’ll take a tie.

I hadn’t thought about this in a long time, but making my way slowly through a book titled The Book of Word Records, which covers this record among many others, brought it back to mind.

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