Or so you can pronounce it correctly, bisarcipôltrônciônacciôsíssimô.
Continuing on with last time‘s exploration of John Florio’s dictionary, this time we look at the longest word in the dictionary. Italian, unlike English, has a bunch of prefixes and suffixes to add different connotations to a word. English is fairly limited, mainly to -y/-ie, which can mean “small” (birdie = small bird) and -ish “sort-of” (sweetish = sort of sweet). Bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo (eventually that will roll off my tongue) has two prefixes and four suffixes, added to the root word poltrone, “poltroon” (think back to your student days of reading that famous playwright who wasn’t Florio). In Italian, there are multiple prefixes and suffixes that mean “awful” (pejorative below), a few that mean “big” (augmentative), “best/most” (superlative), etc. There are also ones for “small” (diminutive), but they’re not used in bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo.
In the chart below, I show how bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo is put together from the root and the prefixes and suffixes. Following the word is the part of speech of the result to that point, followed by the meaning of the piece that was just added (starting with the root, poltrone).
an idle fellow,
a base coward,
a lazie, lither or slothfull sluggard,
So what does bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo mean? That’s a good question. Unfortunately, Florio does not give a translation. (There are numerous entries that he does not give translations for. Many of those he filled in later, but he died before he could publish the third edition. A collaborator did publish it, though.)
Of course, there’s no word for bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo in English, but based on its prefixes and suffixes, we might paraphrase it like “super extremely scum-baggish to the max.” I doubt that people were saying bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo every day, but they could say it if they wanted to, which is the cool part. (In fact, my Italian friend Elena says that people still do say big long words like bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo that they make up on the spot, just for fun. Still cool!)
When I was a kid, the “longest word” that everyone knew was antidisestablishmentarianism, which also has 2 prefixes and 4 suffixes. But who the heck even knows what that means? I don’t know about you, but I’ll take bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo over antidisestablishmentarianism any day.
Thanks to Elena Chiocchetti for getting me started on understanding bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo. I was completely stumped before her first analysis for me. I’ve deviated from her analysis a bit, so any mistakes are my fault, not hers. Grazie mille, Elena!