Script for January 29, 1998
Generations of schoolchildren have grown up believing that the longest word in the English language (excluding specialized scientific words and nonsense terms) is antidisestablishmentarianism. Observant types (and good spellers) will note that antidisestablishmentarianism contains twenty-eight letters.
But we'd bet that very few folks ever found antidisestablishmentarianism in their schoolroom dictionary. Why? Because although the word is often included in lists of long words, is appears so rarely in everyday writing or speech that dictionaries (even very large unabridged dictionaries) hardly ever include an entry for it.
One of the very few dictionaries that does enter the term is the Oxford English Dictionary, the twenty-volume historical dictionary of our language. The OED notes that antidisestablishmentarianism is defined as "opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England," but notes that sense is rare and that the word is most often "cited as an example of a long word." Even the venerable OED can offer no citations of antidisestablishmentarianism in actual usage; it only lists a single 100-year-old example mentioning "strong antidisestablishmentarians...[in] the North of Scotland."
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