A guide to pronunciation and daily use

I have used this word, if not in actual conversation, at least in training technical support call handlers in good customer service. It is fairly well-known that tech support people refer to their customers in less than flattering, if not disparaging terms, idiot and luser being lesser (and cleaner) examples.

Given the meaning of the word, namely "the act or habit of estimating as worthless", I've been very successful when persuading trainee support staff to take their customer service more seriously.

My take during the training is this: their jobs exist as a result of the users, making the customer the most important person in their universe. As a consequence, they should not "estimate as nothing" anyone they deal with on the phone. In addition, many of the end-users have skills and knowledge which the techies lack, yet the customer rarely sees the technician as an idiot.

During the customer service sessions, I introduce the word first, and then the concept, and in my more sadistic moments, ask people to attempt to pronounce it. For those interested in the dismal minutae, my pronunciation key is:

flock see - now see - knee-hilly - pilly - fickay-shun

It may also interest you to know that there is a longer word in some dictionaries, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. No, I've never used it.

and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, but we don't talk about that.

grundoon says Did you know I used to have this floccinaucinihilipilification up on my wall (the whole w/u) at the Presidio? I used your pronunciation guide. But if I do it, does that make me a floccinocinihilipilificatrix?

A young word, hailing from 18th Century Eton, where wags put together the following words, all meaning trivial or insubstantial:

flocci - derv. floccus - a tuft of wool

nauci - worthless

nihili - derv. nihil - nothing

pili - plural of pilus - a hair

The term was supposedly coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (of Rime of the Ancient Mariner fame) in a deliberate attempt to be ironic.

The word, of course, is so huge that it is impossible to ignore, yet it refers to things that are so small most people mistakenly find them insignificant. Yet another example of the Art world using language to poke fun at us commoners.

On a side note, one of my professors at UAB used an even longer incarnation of this word (antifloccinaucinihilipilificationistical) in the title of his paper about Samuel Beckett's 30-second play Breath. (For more info about that subject, see Breath.)

On yet another side note, there seems to be some slight disagreement on the spelling of this word. Several online dictionaries spell it the way it is spelled above, but others spell it with an extra 'c', as in floccinauccinihilipilification. It is unclear whether this is just a common misspelling, or if there are actually two schools of thought on how to spell it, or if a conspiracy is involved, or what. But a quick search on Google revealed just as many hits for floccinaucinihilipilification as there were for floccinauccinihilipilification, and so it remains a mystery why so many people would misspell the word in exactly the same way.

Oh, and of course, 31337 h@X0Rz spell it "phl0x$33/V0x3/V1h31uPh1K@7$hu/V," but that's beside the point.

Update: Gritchka tells me that the extra 'c' in "naucci-" is just an error from looking at the previous "flocci-," but there is indeed a correct alternative spelling to the word, using pauci- instead of nauci- (i.e. floccipaucinihilipilification). Wikipedia says nauci- is the original form and Sir Walter Scott coined the pauci- form, fyi.

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