A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What does antidisestablishmentarianism mean?

May 7, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

Is antidisestablishmentarianism really a word? If it is, what does it mean and is it the longest word? Just asking.

SDStaff Dogster and SDStaff Ian reply:

Otis, you caught us on a good day when we'm not going to chide you for not looking the dang word up yourself in that magical tome known as a dictionary. Instead, we'll get out our truss and pick up the Oxford English Dictionary. Turning to page 59, we find that antidisestablishmentarianism is indeed a word. The definition is as follows: "Properly, opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England, but popularly cited as an example of a long word." Catching the irony here?

As for the second half of your question, the longest word in the first OED was 29-letter floccinaucinihilipilification (the categorizing of something as worthless or trivial). The longest in the OED2, usually cited as the longest word in any English dictionary, is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (a miners' lung disease caused by inhaling silica), 45 letters. Some scholars, however, deride this word as "made up," and declare '"floccinau...'" to be the champ. And, of course, there are some hippopotomonstrosesquipidelian (30 letters, means "long") words in specialized fields, especially chemistry, where they apparently just tack on another few letters every time they rewrite the textbooks. The full name of the tryptophan synthetase A protein, an enzyme with 267 amino acids, extends to 1,913 letters:

methionylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglutamylserylleucylphenylalanyla lanylglutaminylleucyllysylglutamylarginyllysylglutamylglycylalany lphenylalanylvalylprolylphenylalanylvalylthreonylleucylglycylaspa rtylprolylglycylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylserylleucyllysylisoleu cylaspartylthreonylleucylisoleucylglutamylalanylglycylalanylaspar tylalanylleucylglutamylleucylglycylisoleucylprolylphenylalanylser ylaspartylprolylleucylalanylaspartylglycylprolylthreonyliso leucylglutaminylaspfraginylalanylthreonylleucylarginylalanylpheny lalanylalanylalanylglycylvalylthreonylprolylalanylglutaminylcyste inylphenylalanylglutamylmethionylleucylalanylleucylisoleucylargin ylglutaminyllysylhistidylprolylthreonylisoleucylprolylisoleucylgl ycylleucylleucylmethionyltyrosylalanylasparaginylleucylvalylpheny lalanylasparaginyllysylglycylisoleucylaspartylglutamylphenylalany ltyrosylalanylglutaminylcysteinylglutamyllysylvalylglycylva lylaspartylserylvalylleucylvalylalanylaspartylvalylprolylvalylglu taminylglutamylserylalanylprolylphenylalanylarginylglutaminylalan ylalanylleucylarginylhistidylasparaginylvalylalanylprolylisoleucy lphenylalanylisoleucylcysteinylprolylprolylaspartylalanylaspartyl aspartylaspartylleucylleucylarginylglutaminylisoleucylalanylseryl tyrosylglycylarginylglycyltyrosylthreonyltyrosylleucylleucylseryl arginylalanylglycylvalylthreonylglycylalanylglutamylasparag inylarginylalanylalanylleucylprolylleucylasparaginylhistidylleucy lvalylalanyllysylleucyllysylglutamyltyrosylasparaginylalanylalany lprolylprolylleucylglutaminylglycylphenylalanylglycylisoleucylser ylalanylprolylaspartylglutaminylvalyllysylalanylalanylisoleucylas partylalanylglycylalanylalanylglycylalanylisoleucylserylglycylser ylalanylisoleucylvalyllysylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylhi stidylasparaginylisoleucylglutamylprolylglutamyllysylmethio nylleucylalanylalanylleucyllysylvalylphenylalanylvalylglutaminylp rolylmethionyllysylalanylalanylthreonylarginylserine.

There's one you probably won't see on Wheel of Fortune.

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