Difficult Word

What’s the Most Complicated Word in English?

According to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, the most complicated word in the English language is something we’re all familiar with. 


Believe it or not, the three-lettered word “run” yields as many as 645 different meanings and this is only for the verb. The most recent edition of the dictionary used 75 columns for this word alone. Behind these columns of description is nine months of relentless research and arduous compilation from one professional lexicographer, Peter Gilliver. Partly because of this word, the letter R section required more than nine months of harnessing so as to create a comprehensive list of meanings.


So why did this seemingly simple word cause so much complication for the editors at O.E.D.?


The answer lies in contextual meanings. Besides the most obvious meaning of gathering your feet at a quick pace, “run” can also be used in measurement. For example:

When you are talking about the length of your rug, you will say how it runs for two meters.


When you purchased this cotton runner, the transaction at the cashier required you to run up a bill of $50.


On your way to the store, you had to take the regular bus that runs from your home to the shopping mall because you had run through your cleaning supplies and ran out of groceries.


Unfortunately, the bus was running very late and the waiting time ran for forty minutes.


You wish to speak to the person who ran the bus company to file a formal complaint but you were so angry that your speech sounded entirely incoherent.


Because of this, your flood of inner thoughts ran out and the story runs on and on…



As a noun, “run” is most commonly used to imply physical activity. However, it can also be used to suggest the continuity in certain contexts such as the run of a certain emotion, a form of transport, an opportunity, a situation or a condition. For instance:

The morning run you take before breakfast is entirely different from the morning school run one takes to drop of kids.


If you have a trial run before the actual test, you will have a clear run of coming first.


When you feel unlucky, you would say you had a run of bad luck.


In card games, a run consists of three or more consecutive cards in a single suit.


In short, “run” as a noun can almost be applied to every subject. 


In economics, it is when a sudden rise in demand leads to a run on the banks.


In music, it is the long run musical at West End with scores filled with amazing runs and melodic leaps. The list could go on forever.


However, “run” has not always been running the English language. According to the O.E.D.’s chief editor, John Simpson, “set” was considered as the richest of all words before “run” became in charge. When the first edition of the O.E.D was published in 1928, the word “set” occupied 32 full pages with 75 columns showing the 200 meanings. In this age of digitization, “run” has gained popularity partly due to our increasing use of computers and other technological gadgets like iPads.



Featured image courtesy of Babbel