This afternoon, my only native English-speaking colleague for some reason mentioned the word antidisestablishmentarianism. I commented that I had never encountered it actually being used, as opposed to being cited as a very long word (which it is) or the longest word in English (which it isn’t).

The Church of England was established as the state church in 1558, with Queen Elizabeth as the supreme governor (so much for Henry VIII ‘founding his own church’!). At various times, most notably in the mid-19th century, there have been calls for its disestablishment, or the removal of this privileged position and link with the Crown. This has been opposed by antidisestablishmentarians, who epoused antidisestablishmentarianism and argued antidisestablishmentarianistically (though possibly some of them were only pseudo-antidisestablishmentarian and others quasi-pseudo-antidisestablishmentarian.) The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871.

The free version of the Oxford Dictionary states ‘Antidisestablishmentarianism is very occasionally found in genuine use’ but doesn’t give citations. Google Ngrams shows that the first use of the word was in 1915. The Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920, after which the word grew in use. The British National Corpus does not record it at all.

I offer a lifetime subscription to this blog to anyone who can provide a example of antidisestablishmentarism (or any of its derivatives) actually being used (or a citation from the full OED).


3 thoughts on “antidisestablishmentarianism

  1. Merriam-Webster doesn’t include it in any of its dictionaries:

    We can’t put antidisestablishmentarianism in the dictionary because there’s hardly any record of its use as a real word. It’s only cited as an example of a long word—which is not the same thing.

    Here’s the OED entry:

    Etymology: < anti- prefix1 + disestablishmentarian […] + -ism suffix.
    Properly, opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England (rare): but popularly cited as an example of a long word.
    1923 in Brewer’s Dict. Phr. & Fable (new ed.) at Long words,
    1960 Amrita Bazar Patrika 17 June 6/4 But then ‘Antidisestablishmentarianism’ contains three more letters, as pointed out by two readers.
    1984 T. Augarde Oxf. Guide Word Games xxvi. 216 The longest words that most people know are antidisestablishmentarianism..and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.


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