Long vs. lengthy

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Sextus, Jun 22, 2010.

  1. Sextus Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Is there any difference between "long" and "lengthy"?

    "He has written a long/lengthy essay on this topic".

    Does "lengthy" sound a little more negative?
  2. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Lengthy does sound a bit more negative to me ~ and more formal.

    I can't promise that it will strike anyone else this way.
  3. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I was also wondering the same recently - watching the US Open golf, there were long putts and lengthy putts but no obvious dimension difference - seemed more of a style issue between the commentators! As to Cagey's comment, I understand why "lengthy" might strike one as a bit too long, but can't explain it either :D
  4. margiemarz Member

    Funny, but long sounds a bit more negative than lengthy. I get the feeling that not only was the essay lengthy but dull as well.
  5. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    They really mean the same and neither one is intrinsically negative, although either could be used in a slightly pejorative sense in context. "Did you like the essay?" "Yes,, but it was rather lengthy."
  6. Sextus Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Ok, thanks a lot for all these replies.
  7. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    To me "lengthy" is a euphemism for "long", which is the more natural word. "Lengthy" also sounds a little weightier to me.
  8. nickxtsui New Member

    For me, lengthy only sounds nicer because it has more rhythm. When a word has more tones and rhythm, it is easier for the listeners.

    Regarding the meaning, same to me.

    It is long. It is lengthy
  9. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    That was my thought. :thumbsup:
  10. Embonpoint Senior Member

    I do not see either as more negative than the other. I use them interchangeably.

    I think the difference is mostly in collocation, or the way we tend to use each word for no reason in particular--just the way the language has evolved. This will vary from region to region, and even from person to person, but for me here are some common collocations:

    --a lengthy response
    --a lengthy negotiation
    --lengthy discussions
    --a long discussion
    --a long book
    --a long movie
    --a long line (for example at the bank...)

    Just to be clear, I don't mean I would NEVER use the other 'L word" in these contexts--only that one of the words tends to be on the tip of my tongue. If you timed me and asked me to choose one word for each one and I had a split second to decide, the above is what you would get.
  11. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    Interestingly this can be tested although I don't claim perfectly.

    Google ngram: a lengthy response,a long response,a long response time
    https://books.google.com/ngrams/gra...ng response;,c0;.t1;,a long response time;,c0

    "a long response time" is a common phrase in science so we have to allow for that by subtracting its occurrences.

    Once that is done we see a slight bias towards 'lengthy' for international English.

    Note that there is a difference between AE and BE. The former favours 'lengthy response' and the latter favours 'long response'.
  12. Embonpoint Senior Member

    I would absolutely say a long response time!

    But yes, the collocations are going to vary quite a lot. The ones I gave are for me personally, and not necessarily even for AE in general.
  13. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    About the only situation where lengthy sounds weird is relating to actual physical length. A lengthy piece of wood. Everything else seems to have a "human action" component or aspect, where a human is responsible somehow. A lengthy putt is a challenge for the golfer, while a lengthy movie might be a challenge for the audience. In many cases, it implies longer than necessary or desirable. I'd vote for a definition that covers many situations as: "a euphemism for too long".

    (Biffo, it is possible to subtract one Ngram from another and plot the resulting curve - if you dig deep into the About Ngram Viewer link. You can even generate a plot with separate graphs for a single phrase in AmE and BrE)

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