Friday, August 24, 2012

what would we do for fun without our greek and latin roots?

The late, exceedingly clever Ronnie Barker, combining his love for words with his enormous sense of fun.

Our shed is full of boxes of books. Who would have thought books would ever become obsolete? Sure it’s nice to sit down with a good paperback about grizzly crimes and witty detectives, but what is the use of a heap of reference books when we have the internet?

“I read it in the Hun* so it must be true”, once a popular joke, has now been upgraded to “I found it on Wikipedia so it must be true”. Thankfully, Google provides a range of sources we can use to check Wikipedia entries.

Having just stumbled across a paragraph [in a paperback] about disestablishmentarianism, it occurred to me that the internet could tell me what I had been unable to verify for decades… is antidisestablishmentarianism the longest word in the English language?

Briefly, the story is that until 1828 holders of public office had to receive Anglican communion and reject the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation**… i.e
  • non-Anglicans could not enter parliament
  • until 1856 non-Anglicans could not take a degree at Oxford or Cambridge or
  • until 1871, teach at Oxford or Cambridge

In the late 19th Century dissenters campaigned for religious freedom and disestablishment of the Church of England – or separation of Church and State.
Antidisestablishmentarianism was the stance of those resistant to this change.

The longest word has been around a long time.

Naturally Wikipedia has something to add to the story… explaining that, intoxicated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, a Mr Smith created a legitimate new ‘longest’ word – Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis – by more precisely explaining what silicosis is.

It had to be a medical word I suppose, as the names of illnesses are generally cobbled together from bits and pieces of words that describe symptoms [and sometimes also causes].

* The Hun – Melbourne’s very own Herald-Sun newspaper.

** transubstantiation – in the Roman Catholic Church, at communion the bread and wine are said to literally become the body and blood of Christ.
The belief this happens when the Priest says Hoc est corpus meum or "This is my body" gave rise to the expression hocus pocus.
[Appalling to think that over a number of centuries and around the globe, millions of people were tortured and executed defending ideas like this.]


  1. Books obsolete? Not in my house!! Or in my car - where there are still books of - gasp - MAPS!!! Thanx for clearing up 'antidisestablishmentarianism' - it's been bothering me for decades!!!

    1. Of course you need books of maps. Some books are irreplaceable, and maps and directions are the sort of things that require both the big picture and the detail. Besides, you should keep what you need in order to feed your hungry readers more fab photos, anecdotes and insights.
      But... atlases without new European / Caucasian boundaries? Books that explain antidisestablishmentarianism? Nah.

    2. Haha! Maybe I'll keep them all in the name of 'valuable ephemera'!!!

    3. One day someone will find my atlas with all the countries in the British Empire coloured red, and throw it in a bin. At least I won't be still around to cry.

  2. Very interesting. I didn't realize where hocus pocus came from!

    1. Someone once suggested "ya gotta love history... it's so stupid!" Now I have to wonder if hocus pocus is politically incorrect, discrimination against Catholcis and all that?

      [You possibly know already, but maybe I should have put a *** in that says Anglican is much the same as what U.S.ians know as Episcopalian.]

  3. No way will i be giving up reading paperback novels or newspapers in the near future.

    1. What I wonder sometimes is why publishers insist on printing novels on such thick paper in such a large format. There are so many Cusslers, and Cornwells, not to mention the whole Kellerman clan in the shed that there's no room for my stuff [said I sulking].
      But I'm with you about the newspapers. reading them on a screen just ain't the same.

  4. I tend to stay away from religion and politics but somehow 'hocus pocus' and the RC's seem to fit beautifully and see now I've probably gone and upset someone already haha!

    1. What is life without a little fun? I'm sure the church is doing enough to upset people even without your help!