Rhopalic Sentences

Here’s an interesting sentence, where each word has one more letter than the word before it:

I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting; nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality counterbalancing indecipherability transcendentalizes intercommunications’ incomprehensibleness.

Sentences such as these are called “rhopalic sentences,” or sometimes “snowball sentences.” Obviously, this is not a writing feat for anyone with hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia. The author of this gem, apparently, is Dmitri Borgmann, and it’s from his book, Language on Vacation: An Olio of Orthographical Oddities (Scribner, 1965), available at your friendly neighbourhood Amazon. Its last word is 20 letters long. I first encountered this spiffy sentence on the Grammarly page out on Facebookland, posted 27 September 2014.

The following rhopal (can I call them that?) is shorter, written by Alan Truscott, published in The New York Times on 26 October 1986. It chickens out at 17 letters in the final word but it reads a tad more smoothly:

I am the only dummy player, perhaps, planning maneuvers calculated brilliantly, nevertheless outstandingly pachydermatous, notwithstanding unconstitutional unprofessionalism.

Here’s another example, this time by Richard Elwes, dating from a 4 April 2013 blog post, reaching 22 letters with its triumphant last word:

I am not very happy around strange abstract paintings, preferring portraiture; contemporary postmodernism underestimates picturesqueness, antagonistically mischaracterizing bourgeoisification, exhibitionistically, overenthusiastically overintellectualizing nonrepresentationalism.

And here’s one more, posted by “packos130” to Reddit on 13 June 2013, this one with the serendipity of including the word “rhopalic” and even pontificating about such sentences themselves. It goes one letter further than the preceding example by reaching 23 letters:

I do not like these greedy phrases, rhopalic fashioned, tirelessly snowballing, accumulating incrementally sesquipedalian overindulgences, circumlocutional complexifications, pseudo-aristocratic self-aggrandizements, psychopathalogically over-intellectualizing incomprehensiblenesses; hyperpolysyllabicomania!

Oh, but we’re not done. Also on the preceding Reddit thread, “RyanKinder” posted the following example on 13 June 2013. It’s not quite as elegant because it isn’t a single sentence, but it does reach 24 letters with the final word:

I do not like doing escape prompts. Rhopalic obstacles introduced awkwardness. Structurally anti-climactic. Repetitiveness countermeasures compartmentalize conceptualization. Conceptualizations incomprehensibility, uncharacteristically. Multidimensionalities deinstitutionalization—indistinguishablenesses! Overintellectualizations.

Not to be outdone, Dmitri Borgmann also came up with the following, back in 1965, which I found on the Puzzlewocky website. This one ends with a 24-letter word, and he calls this sentence “a trifle less lucid” (rhopalicists must, after all, have standards):

I am not very happy acting pleased whenever prominent scientists overmagnify intellectual enlightenment, stoutheartedly outvociferating ultrareactionary retrogressionists, characteristically unsupernaturalizing transubstantiatively philosophicoreligious incomprehensiblenesses anthropomorphologically. Pathologicopsychological!

Has anyone topped this? And do you want to give rhopalic sentences a try? I confess that I’m happy to defer to Dmitri Borgmann. Im also fastidious in not confusing rhopalic with rhophylac (oh dear, no, a very different beast). And if you think rhopalic sentences are not without controversy, check out this fiery accusation and its flaming response (okay, not so flaming). Beware the rhopaliwock, my friend!

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