Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Vocabulary: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious IS NOT Meaningless

Image from RTHK


Came across a page on RTHK called 楊官教英文 ----- 楊官信箱 and I was randomly reading the mailbox questions and answer. At first I thought it was pretty interesting until I saw one reply, and I thought I have to write something about it. I have captured the question and answer in the image below:

Image from RTHK

Is it a word that really carries "no meaning"?

First, let's familiarise ourselves with this song from the 1964 Disney musical film Mary Poppins.


and the lyrics go,

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

It's Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Even though the sound of it
Is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You'll always sound precocious
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
Because I was afraid to speak
When I was just a lad
Me father gave me nose a tweak
And told me I was bad
But then one day I learned a word
That saved me aching nose
The biggest word you ever heard
And this is how it goes
Oh, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Even though the sound of it
Is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You'll always sound precocious
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
He traveled all around the world and everywhere he went
He'd use his word and all would say there goes a clever gent
When dukes and Maharajahs pass the time of day with me
I say my special word and then they ask me out to tea
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Even though the sound of it
Is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You'll always sound precocious
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
Um-dittle-ittl-um-dittle-I
So when the cat has got your tongue
There's no need for dismay
Just summon up this word
And then you've got a lot to say
But better use it carefully
Or it can change your life
For example
Yes?
One night I said it to me girl and now me girls my wife
Oh! And a lovely thing she is too. he he he
She's Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
by Richard Sherman / Robert Sherman

From the song, we can tell that this exceptionally lengthy word definitely carries a meaning, and it is definitely a pattern-reforming creativity (Carter, 2004) of neologism which comes from a combination of multiple words (Law, in press).

Image from OED


While the Oxford Online Dictionary has the answer, meaning extraordinarily good; wonderful, and mentioning that the word first appeared in the 1940s, that is 24 years prior to the release of the song and film, it still does not say what the neologism is comprised of.

Turns out, Wikipedia has the answer. The page cited Lederer (1998)'s analysis of the word,

An analysis of the individual word elements produces another definition. Richard Lederer, in his book Crazy English, defines the word roots as follows: super- "above", cali- "beauty", fragilistic- "delicate", expiali- "to atone", and -docious "educable", which, he writes, produces an overall meaning of "atoning for extreme and delicate beauty [while being] highly educable"

And there we have it! Clear as day! "Atoning for extreme and delicate beauty [while being] highly educable". Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious IS NOT Meaningless!




References:
楊官教英文 ----- 楊官信箱
http://rthk9.rthk.hk/elearning/yangtl/mailbox_p04.htm

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (from Mary Poppins)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rihNRTTcztQ

supercalifragilisticexpialidocious | Definition of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in English by Oxford Dictionaries
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Carter, R. (2004). Language and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk. London: Routledge.

Law, L. (in press). Creativity & Multimodality: an Analytical Framework for Creativity in Multimodal Texts (AFCMT). Linguistics and Human Sciences. Equinox.

Lederer, Richard (1998). Crazy English : the ultimate joy ride through our language. New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0671023232.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/as-clear-as-day

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