Once known as the longest Latin word in existence (it is in fact not a word at all), "honorificabilitudinitatibus" means something akin to "honorableness." This non-word is a piece of utter nonsense, and this, as we shall see, is the entire point.

The word appears in Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Lost, Act 5, scene 1:

Costard: 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 flapdragon. (l. 38-42)

Costard is of a class of characters known as rustics or clowns, comic characters who get their laughs by being ignorant country bumpkins. The joke lies in their crudeness, their hick speech patterns, and occasionally in the way they try very hard to imitate their social betters and fail miserably. Our friend Costard has been hanging around Nathaniel the curate and Holofernes the schoolmaster, a pair who spend their days making long-winded logical arguments and practicing their skills of vocabulary and rhetoric. Costard thus mocks their grand speech by imitating it, though he shows no indication that he knows what the word means; he merely observes that little Mote the page boy is so small that he'd be less of a mouthful than "honorificabilitudinitatibus".

Love's Labor's Lost, Shakespeare's second comedy, is filled with such agonizing twists of language to an extent that is extraordinary even for Will "I never met a pun I didn't like" Shakespeare himself. A sizeable chunk of the play's characters seem to make rhetoric and fantastic language a hobby or profession, and the rest, a veritable parade of aristocratic lovers, relish wooing and tormenting each other by turns with their verbal wit. "Honorificabilitudinitatibus" is thus merely one of the more impressive examples of this comedy's remarkable wordplay.

Say it with me now, children:


Information on this glorious non-word, and the quotation, taken from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, updated fourth edition edited by David Bevington. Love it, worship it, keep it under your pillow.

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