Sunday, November 01, 2009

Fun With Words

English is a language which permits the legitimate extension of existing words to serve new purposes by the addition of prefixes and suffixes.

This is sometimes referred to as agglutinative construction.

This process can create arbitrarily long words: for example, the prefixes pseudo (false, spurious) and anti (against, opposed to) can be added as many times as desired.

A word like anti-aircraft (pertaining to the defense against aircraft) is easily extended to anti-anti-aircraft (pertaining to counteracting the defense against aircraft, a legitimate concept) and can from there be prefixed with an endless stream of "anti-"s, each time creating a new level of counteraction. More familiarly, the addition of numerous "great"s to a relative, e.g. great-great-great-grandfather, can produce words of arbitrary length.

"Antidisestablishmentarianism" is the longest common example of a word formed by agglutinative construction, as follows (the numbers succeeding the word refer to the number of letters in the word):

establish (9)
to set up, put in place, or institute (originally from the Latin stare, to stand)

dis-establish (12)
to end the established status of a body, in particular a church, given such status by law, such as the Church of England

disestablish-ment (16)
the separation of church and state (specifically in this context it is the political movement of the 1860s in Britain)

anti-disestablishment (20)
opposition to disestablishment

antidisestablishment-ary (23)
of or pertaining to opposition to disestablishment

antidisestablishmentari-an (25)
an opponent of disestablishment

antidisestablishmentarian-ism (28)
the movement or ideology that opposes disestablishment

The use of additional affixes could stretch the word to the oft-cited 'pseudoantidisestablishmentarianism' (34) or 'antidisestablishmentarianisticalized,' (36)

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