Yes, I know…yet another piece of proof that I am a word nerd: I have a favorite word:


This is the ultimate Word Nerd word because it shows so clearly how you can spell, and even come close to the meaning of, even the longest words, if you recognize and break down their roots, prefixes and suffixes.

I loved to use this word in our homeschool Spelling Club to prove this point, so take a deep breath, and here goes!

anti- is Greek for "against," and they apparently gave it to the Latins for ante-, meaning in front of or before. That makes me think of the Roman games with two men facing each other, going head-to-head. So the same root, coming to us through two somewhat dissimilar cultures, is used in two ways. Think of antibiotic and antecedent. (Bonus: In Spanish ante means "before").

dis- means "opposite of" when forming a noun, which we clearly are doing here, with antidisestablishmentarianism.

So far, we have a double negative, basically. Someone is against the opposite of something.

I know you’ll recognize the next part of the word: establish, which comes from the Latin stabilire, "to make stable."  Pretty far down the list of definitions for "establish" in my Webster’s New World College Dictionary is this definition, which will be salient to our discussion: "to make a state institution of (a church)."  Stand, state, stable, stationary…all come from that basic sta- root of which the Latins made stabilire.

[The "est-" part seems to be a French extension of the Latin, and the "ment" part, of course, just makes the verb "establish" into the noun "establishment." It’s a French addition, too. Of course, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian are all Romance languages–wha term named after Rome, since they’re all basically derived from Latin–so it makes sense that many of their words are so similar to each other.]

Now, if you’re into theology, you may think you recognize the next part of our word: Arianism. Nope. That’s a branch of theology named after a Mr. Arian.

The suffix here is -arian, meaning "one characterized by or having…believing in or advocating…associated with. It is combined with the suffix -ism, which means "the act, practice or result of."

So now we know our word means the act of (-ism) being against (anti-) those who believe (-arian) in disestablishment. "Disestablishment" in my Webster’s means, "to deprive a state church of official sanction and support by the government":  the opposite of (dis-) an established state church.

This was essentially a British fight over the role of the Church of England. Our founders were apparently, at least unofficially, disestablishmentarians, because they put the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to keep the goverment from trying to establish an official state church, NOT to keep religion and government separate, but that’s a different soap box.

Notice how you can spell a word by recognizing and breaking down its roots, prefixes and suffixes. None of the youngsters in spelling club believed they could spell a 28-letter word…until I broke it down for them. I can’t say it’s foolproof; those French words can be tough, but it does work.

And notice how, if you came across this word and didn’t know it, you could break it down in your mind, and probably come close to understanding its meaning in context, especially if that context was a church history treatise.

So is it the longest word in the English language? Nope! There’s always "pseudoantidisestablishmentarianism." But I won’t go there!