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This appears quite often in modern collections of exotic and unfamiliar words. It’s certainly both. It’s monstrous, 30 letters long (to save electrons and my typing fingers, let’s call it E30 from now on), longer than the most-quoted example of a long word, antidisestablishmentarianism, though out-lettered by the delightful supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and the humorously created pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Who could have created E30, and having done so, dared to present such an unpronounceable horror before the public?

So far as I can discover, it has never appeared anywhere in print as a serious word. We know about it solely because of the American folklorist Louise Pound. She was born in Nebraska in 1872 and was a professor of English at the University of Nebraska for most of her adult life. In 1911 and 1916 she contributed three word lists to the journal Dialect Notes that she had collected from students at the university.

These included cackleberries for eggs, discumgalligumfricated, greatly astonished but pleased, hiptiminigy, a cry that expressed exuberance of spirit, optriculum, something whose name one can’t remember for the moment, and ramsasspatorious, excited, anxious, impatient. The list also contains E30, defined as “extra good or fine” and noted as having been brought from western Oregon by the unnamed person who contributed it.

Dr Stephen Chrisomalis, of The Phrontistery and Glossographia, wrote about it a year ago and pointed out that the list has two other relevant words: hypoppercanorious and flippercanorious, both with the same sense of something very good. The first is E30 without the eellogofusciou at the front; all three have canorious at the end, though spelled differently in E30. Hypoppercanorious was said to be in use also in Massachusetts. The very similar hippocanarious was recorded in 1949 in a word list from west Texas, though that was said to mean unmanageable or high-spirited.

These tantalising hints suggest that these words — and perhaps others similar to them — had been in slangy usage across the US in the first half of the twentieth century. We may guess at the pleasure that students took in creating and using these exaggerated and unfamiliar words as part of the long US tradition of generating and flourishing grandiloquent words such as absquatulate, hornswoggle, sockdolager, and skedaddle.

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Page created 10 Jan 2015; Last updated 01 Feb 2015