19 May 2012

The Earliest “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”

For most Americans, the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is insuperably linked to the 1964 movie adaptation of Mary Poppins and its score, written by the Sherman brothers.

Ben Zimmer at the Visual Thesaurus, with the help of Merriam-Webster, recently shared a much earlier printed use of the term “Supercaliflawjalisticexpialadoshus.” As shown above, it appeared in Syracuse University’s Daily Orange newspaper in 1931. Humor columnist Helen Herman claimed to have concocted the word several years before, “or at least, I have my own interpretation of its pronunciation.”

The Shermans themselves never claimed to have invented the word. Instead, they recalled hearing it at a summer camp in the 1920s. There’s no obvious connection between them and Helen Herman, though it’s hard to imagine the word would have developed independently.

In 1949 and 1951, songwriters Gloria Parker and Barney Young published a song with the spelling “Supercalafajalistickespialadojus.” After Mary Poppins, they sued the Sherman brothers for copyright infringement. The judge ruled that the songs were different enough. But weren’t the titles basically the same? Yes, but titles can’t be copyrighted.


Greg R. Fishbone said...

Story idea: A Mary Poppins DVD falls through a crack in the space-time continuum and lands in a 1920s summer camp. Somehow it plays just fine in the local nickelodeon.

david elzey said...

the structure and tone of that last paragraph -- starting and ending with the word itself -- mimics the phrasing of the opening verse of the song. i've no doubt that they could have gleaned the word from a camp song but would love to know *that* song as well.

J. L. Bell said...

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is the word that I refer to.
I'll admit it's rather long and tire-ing before you were through,…