Word of the Day – Sesquipedalian

Word of the Day : March 26, 2021


adjective sess-kwuh-puh-DAIL-yun


1 : having many syllables : long

2 : using long words

Did you know?

Horace, the ancient Roman poet known for his satire, was merely being gently ironic when he cautioned young poets against using sesquipedalia verba—”words a foot and a half long”—in his book Ars poetica, a collection of maxims about writing. But in the 17th century, English literary critics decided the word sesquipedalian could be very useful for lambasting writers using unnecessarily long words. Robert Southey used it to make two jibes at once when he wrote “the verses of [16th-century English poet] Stephen Hawes are as full of barbarous sesquipedalian Latinisms, as the prose of [the 18th-century periodical] the Rambler.” The Latin prefix sesqui- is used in modern English to mean “one and a half times,” as in sesquicentennial (a 150th anniversary).


Jacob’s editor advised him to pare away the sesquipedalian prose he favored and opt for simpler language that would reach more readers.

“For generations, college-bound kids have memorized sesquipedalian word lists and spent hours or days, if not months, mastering the theory of guessing among other test-taking tricks and gimmicks to propel them to a high score on the pivotal SAT exam.” — Jill Tucker, The San Francisco Chronicle, 15 Feb. 2016