I don’t recall exactly how old I was at the time, but I remember when someone told me that the longest word in the English language was “antidisestablishmentarianism.” I was intrigued by that word and decided that my mission in life would be to memorize its spelling and proceed to dazzle people with my ability to, off-the-cuff, spell that word for anyone who would listen.
I wrote down all 28 letters of the word and set about committing it to memory. It didn’t take that long and once memorized, I proceeded to walk around demonstrating that I could spell the longest word in the English language. Woo hoo!
But then my father asked me if I knew what the word meant. I had no idea. “Don’t you think it would be wise for you to not only know how to spell the word, but to know what it means?” he asked.
Yeah, okay, that makes sense. Of course, back then Google didn’t exist, so I went to my school library, walked up to this huge, honkin’ unabridged dictionary that was mounted on top of an ornate wooden pedestal, and opened it up to the page that contained the word “antidisestablishmentarianism.”
I learned that it referred to a political position during the Reformation in the 16th century. King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife, so he split from Roman Catholicism. Those against him were “anti” the “disestablishment” of the church and thus, didn’t approve of the budding Anglican Church, later known as the Church of England. Not very relevant to a young, American boy, but that was no reason not to be proud of my ability to spell the longest word in the English language.
Except it’s not the longest word in the English language. The real longest word is “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,” which refers to a lung disease contracted from the inhalation of very fine silica particles, such as those from a volcano.
But antidisestablishmentarianism remains the longest non-technical, non-coined word in English.
And yes, I know. One of you wise-asses is bound to comment, “Fandango, the actual longest word in the English language is ‘smiles.’ There’s a mile between the esses.”