‘Antidisestablishmentarianism’ isn’t in the dictionary. Let’s change that!

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antidisestablishmentarianism

Antidisestablishmentarianism is often cited as one of the longest word in the English language. It’s also a word that refers to a concept in church-state relations. But it’s not actually in the dictionary.

According to lexicographers,  antidisestablishmentarianism was originally a term used in a dispute over churches in Northern Ireland in the early 1800s. The Anglican Church began to close or disestablish churches in Norther Ireland. A group of Oxford professors opposed this and became a small movement known as antidisestablishmentarianism—a movement (-ism) that opposed (anti-) the disesablishment of churches (-arian).

It’s a word only a professor could come up with.

Today, the term might mean a movement in favor of the government establishing (due to the double negative) a religion, to create a church-state partnership. It could just mean being in favor of the establishment. Maybe it means something else. There may be no meaning at all.

And that’s why it’s not in the dictionary. As this video from Merriam-Webster explains, to be in the dictionary a word must be in widespread use and have a meaning. To date, that hasn’t happened.

That can change. We sometimes refer to religious political movements as theocratic, but that’s rarely accurate. They don’t want churches to control government. They often want a greater partnership between religion and government. This may be moderate antidisestablishmentarianism (e.g., if they want faith-based initiatives and voucher programs for private schools or extreme antidisestablishmentarianism (e.g., a nationalistic movement moving to establish or keep a state church).

Examples:

  • The county clerk refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, claiming it was her religious liberty. Others said it was just another case of antidisestablishmentarianism.
  • The nationalists held an antidisestablishmentarianism rally protesting the possible removal of the Catholic Church as the official state religion.

So, consider this the start of the proantidisestablishmentarianism lexicographic movement, a term only a professor would come up with.

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