Monday, October 19, 2015

Long and short of it

  My genealogy research has uncovered all sorts of fascinating information, including the meaning of a word that was popular in my childhood as the longest word in the English language.
      Antidisestablishmentarianism can no longer claim to be the longest word. Evidently there's some protein enzyme with 267 amino acids so its full name has 1,913 letters. Don't worry, I won't try to spell it. And there are several other contenders with more letters than the 28 in antidisestablishmentarianism.
      In studying my son's ancestor Elijah Craig and his work for religious freedom in Virginia, I came across the term "disestablishment." The constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia "disestablished" the Church of England as the official church in the colony.
      Not everyone agreed with that. Patrick Henry, for instance, who defended the rights of ministers of other faiths to speak their conscience, was concerned that without an "established" church no one would take care of the the poor and fatherless and the citizens would fall into moral decay. So you could say that Patrick was "antidisestablishment" -- a perfect example of double negative creating a positive.
       But cousin James Madison pushed for a separation between the government and the church, so there would be no "established" church in the colony of Virginia. "Disestablishment" soon became the rule of the land.
       At least this land. The Church of England is still the "established" church in England, for very much the same reasons Patrick Henry gave. As recently as 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron disagreed on the subject.
       Antidisestablishmentarianism may not be the longest word anymore, but it is still a valid point of view.

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