F is for Floccinaucinihilipilification

“Can you use that in a sentence please?”

“Sure. I’ve pretty certain that the country’s floccinaucinihilipilification feelings about the President’s job are very true.”

For the letter F today I’m choosing a word in the English language that is quite absurd and ridiculed. It’s origins are a laughing matter for it was a matter of Latin fusion: throwing four ingredients into a stew kettle and stirring them with constant care, and out came this new word, that was made with a pilus of hair. If you say it to a person who is unaware of its meaning, they’ll likely not know that you’re basically calling their life insignificant.

This is the second longest legitimate word, other than that ridiculous long one that contains about 500 instances of meth, in the English language. I just had to choose this word today for F since it is obviously an interesting set of syllables that can be broken down like this:

floc – ce – nah – ce – knee – hil – lip – ill – lif – fah – kay – shun

This absurd word is defined as the habit of estimating that something is worthless, explaining my example of the President’s job up there. It’s origins can be traced back to the eighteenth century, a time when the most fun you could have without killing someone was creating new and interesting words for the dictionary.

The legend goes like this: In eighteenth century Berkshire there were four little Latin words named Flocci, Nauci, Nihili, and Pili and they all lived happily together in a log cabin (in separate beds, of course). But then one night, a big bad guy with a lasso, on orders from some secret cult I suppose, broke into their cabin (it wasn’t locked) while they were sleeping and wrangled up all of the words and added a -fication tag across their heads in red paint. And apparently it was some magic paint, for the four words eventually morphed into a fearsome monster with big tentacles and slimy skin. The first thing this monster did was eat its creator and then stormed and terrorized the village, spreading something around that made many people and places worthless, hence the definition created later on. The legend of the Floccinaucinihilipilification monster was not spoken openly for years after that, just in hushed tones, and it was hard to pronounce anyway. But in 1741, an author with the brilliant name of William Shenstone boldly used it in a letter about a deceased lover: “I loved him for nothing so much as his flocci-nauci-nihili-pili-fication of money” or “I loved him for nothing so much as his judgment that money was a worthless commodity.” Well apparently Shenstone’s life was now meaningless without his lover and so the “F” monster showed up later on and finished him off, but not without a fight put up by brave Sir William who managed to cripple the beast before he died, making it weak. The beast retreated then to a safe place and was never seen again. Some say it died. Or so the story goes. The legend of the monster who made people and things insignificant lives on today, being told in circles to frightened children (and adults).

Okay, so that’s not exactly how the origins of the word went (it came from a grammar book at Eton College) but there are four Latin words contained within this grand “F” word that can be analyzed more closely:

  • Flocci, derived from floccus, literally a tuft of wool, and I’m not sure where it’s meaning of “worthless” comes in the Eton College grammar book
  • Pili, the plural of pilus, a hair, which in Latin could mean a whit, jot, trifle or generally a thing that is insignificant
  • Nihili comes from nihil, nothing, as in words like nihilism and annihilate
  • Nauci just means worthless

So it was a matter of creating a word that did not yet exist, filling in the vague gap to describe the act of naming something or someone worthless. It’s not like a person had anything better to do in 1700s England. I should dare myself to use this word in a sentence when speaking with someone, just to see their reaction, their look of bewilderment.


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Author: Macbofisbil

Welcome to "Macbofisbil: An Awesome Mind", a place where you will find all sorts of interesting stories, pictures, and advice on life in general.

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