Video courtesy of Merriam-Webster Dictionary via YouTube
(RNS) “Antidisestablishmentarianism” is often cited as one of the longest words in the English language. It 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 Northern Ireland. A group of Oxford professors opposed this and became a small movement known as antidisestablishmentarianism — a movement (-ism) that opposed (anti-) the disestablishment 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).
- 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.
(Tobin Grant is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.)
LM/MG END GRANT