When I was in the fourth grade, my friends and I had a great time saying “antidisestablishmentarianism” to each other since it was the longest word any of us had ever heard of. Of course we had no idea what it meant, although it seemed to be “anti” something. When my daughter and her friends were young they enjoyed saying the word from the movie Mary Poppins: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious with the same glee.

Vocabulary skills were stressed throughout school and were seen as a reflection of one’s aptitude for college in the SAT tests. Some students took vocabulary building classes or bought books on increasing your vocabulary. Those practices seemed odd to me since I thought my vocabulary was mainly a reflection of all the reading I had done. The only drawback from learning words by sight alone was that occasionally I would mispronounce a word I had only ever seen but never heard. In a movie yesterday, for instance, a woman pronounced “Persephone” as per-se-phone(as in telephone.) The same mistakes show up as I listen to some audio books.

At some point I stopped acquiring new words except neologisms such as “meme” or “byte.” The words that I never really grasped continue to elude me when I encounter them in crossword puzzles. Avow and aver trip me up continually. I mastered eponym only after many clues about a stadium in Queens, New York.(Ashe) As for apotheosis, I still turn to the dictionary. I am not sure why words never cemented in early life fail to take root now.

And crossword puzzles? While they are supposed to stave off dementia I think they really only develop the ability to do crossword puzzles! A useful skill, for sure, but not essential for most people. Yours truly excepted!

19 thoughts on ““Antidisestablishmentarianism”

  1. I have never been bothered with the cryptic nature of crossword puzzles. There seems to be something elitist about them, with ‘clever clogs’ people boasting about how quickly they finish the hard ones, like the daily one in The Times newspaper.
    As for words, blogging has made me realise how too few people know the difference between simple words, like ‘their’, and ‘there’. I can live with someone not knowing what a eulogy is, but I am constantly irritated by the misuse of the basics. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. To take up Pete’s point, some they’re/there/their errors result from typing as you think, something to do with the sound of words in the auditory loop. Affect/effect is one that really irritates me. But then I wrote past instead of passed the other day. However, I do agree that some people don’t appear to know the difference. To take a phrase from my teenage years when we used to play with a dictionary, they are probably just sanguinarily crepuscular.


  3. We loved that word, too! Funny how we have so many shared experiences. I love words but I know everyone does not share my passion.

    I recently discovered that people with poor vocabulary seldom enjoy crosswords. Or a rousing game of Scrabble.


  4. Similarly, I heard that word (antidisestablishmentarianism) occasionally in England but hadn’t looked up the meaning until now, “opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England!”


  5. I remember both of those long words from childhood and of course knew the song from Mary Poppins. There are still a few words I can’t seem to keep straight and so I often google them as I’m blogging so I use or spell them correctly. I’m sure a few slip by as I sometimes find and correct them later. 🙂


  6. Interesting, Elizabeth. I also gained a lot of my vocabulary from my endless reading and have had the same experience with mispronouncing words I have only ever read and not heard. I now listen to a lot of audio books which helps with that. I used to read Dickens with a dictionary to hand so that I could look up the words I didn’t know. I have never forgotten those words one of which was countenance.


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