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"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" // (listen) is a song from the 1964 Disney musical film Mary Poppins. The song was written by the Sherman Brothers, and sung by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. It also appears in the stage show version. Because Mary Poppins was a period piece set in 1910, songs that sounded similar to songs of the period were wanted. The movie version finished at #36 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.
The song occurs in the chalk-drawing outing animated sequence, just after Mary Poppins wins a horse race. Flush with her victory, she is immediately surrounded by reporters who pepper her with leading questions and comment that she probably is at a loss for words. Mary disagrees, suggesting that at least one word is appropriate for the situation, and begins the song.
Word meaning and origin
The word is a compound word, and said by Richard Lederer in his book Crazy English to be made up of these words: super- "above", cali- "beauty", fragilistic- "delicate", expiali- "to atone", and -docious "educable", with all of these parts combined meaning "Atoning for educability through delicate beauty."
The Oxford English Dictionary first records the word (with a spelling of "supercaliflawjalisticexpialadoshus") in a column by Helen Herman in the Syracuse University Daily Orange, dated March 10, 1931. In the column, Herman states that the word "implies all that is grand, great, glorious, splendid, superb, wonderful".
In 1949, it was used (with spelling recorded in 1949 as "Supercalafajalistickespialadojus", and in 1951 as "Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus") as the title of a song by Gloria Parker and Barney Young, subtitled "The Super Song" and recorded by Alan Holmes and His New Tones for Columbia Records.
The Sherman Brothers, who wrote the Mary Poppins song, have given several conflicting explanations for the word's origin, in one instance claiming to have coined it themselves, based on their memories of having created double-talk words as children. In another instance, they wrote:
When we were little boys in the mid-1930s, we went to a summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains, where we were introduced to a very long word that had been passed down in many variations through many generations of kids. … The word as we first heard it was super-cadja-flawjalistic-espealedojus.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as "a nonsense word, originally used esp. by children, and typically expressing excited approbation: fantastic, fabulous", while Dictionary.com says it is "used as a nonsense word by children to express approval or to represent the longest word in English."
In 1965, the song was the subject of an unsuccessful lawsuit by songwriters Gloria Parker and Barney Young against Wonderland Music, Disney's music publishing subsidiary, and publisher of the song from the film. The plaintiffs alleged that it was a copyright infringement of a 1949 song of their own called "Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus". Also known as "The Super Song", "Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus" was recorded by Alan Holmes and His New Tones for Columbia Records, with vocal by Hal Marquess and the Holmes Men, and music and lyrics by Patricia Smith (a Gloria Parker pen name) and Don Fenton. Another recording of "Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus", performed by The Arabian Knights and published by Gloro Records, was released in 1951. The Disney publishers won the lawsuit in part because they produced affidavits showing that "variants of the word were known ... many years prior to 1949".
During the song, Poppins says, "You know, you can say it backwards, which is 'dociousaliexpilistic-fragilcalirupus', but that's going a bit too far, don't you think?"
Her claim was not about spelling it backwards, but saying it backwards; if one breaks the word into several sections or prosodic feet ("super-cali-fragi-listic-expi-ali-docious") and recites them in reverse sequence, and also modifies "super" to "rupes", it comes close to what Poppins said in the film.
However, when the word is spelled backwards it actually becomes "suoicodilaipxecitsiligarfilacrepus", which is different.
In the stage musical, the word's actual spelling reversal is used, while rapper Ghostface Killah said "docious-ali-expi-listic-fragi-cali-super", which is the full prosody version, in his song "Buck 50" released on his album Supreme Clientele.
"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" was released as a single, achieving a measure of commercial success on the U.S. music charts. It peaked at number 66 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It did much better on the Adult Contemporary chart, reaching number 14.
|US Billboard Hot 100||66|
|US Billboard Adult Contemporary||14|
|US Cash Box Top 100||80|
In the stage musical, Mary Poppins takes Jane and Michael Banks to visit Mrs Corry's shop to buy "an ounce of conversation", only to find that Mrs Corry has run out of conversation. She does, however have some letters, and Jane and Michael each pick out seven, with Mary choosing one also. As Bert, Mary and the rest of the ensemble struggle to create words out of the fifteen letters, Mary reminds them that they can always use the same letter more than once, and creates the word (and song) Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. In addition, the cast spells it out in a kind of gesture that was suggested by choreographer Stephen Mear, whose partner is deaf.
English yachtsman Rodney Pattisson won three Olympic medals in sailing during the Games of 1968 (gold), 1972 (gold) and 1976 (silver) in a Flying Dutchman called Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious written in large colorful waves on the hull.
In February 2000, Inverness Caledonian Thistle defeated Glasgow's Celtic FC 3-1 in the third round of the Scottish Cup football competition. The result, one of the biggest ever upsets in Scottish football, led to the famous newspaper headline "Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious" by The Sun. The Guardian rated it as number 5 in six of the greatest football headlines.
In 2017, Dick Van Dyke was selected to receive an award for television excellence from BAFTA, at which time he said "I appreciate this opportunity to apologise to the members of Bafta for inflicting on them the most atrocious cockney accent in the history of cinema." A chief executive of Bafta responded, "We look forward to his acceptance speech in whatever accent he chooses on the night. We have no doubt it will be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
- The Making of Mary Poppins (2004) on IMDb
- "Home : Oxford English Dictionary". Retrieved 4 March 2016.
- Helen Herman (March 10, 1931). "A-Muse-ings". Daily Orange.
- Ben Zimmer (April 23, 2012). "Tracking Down the Roots of a "Super" Word". Visual Thesaurus. Thinkmap, Inc. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
- "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: What does it mean?". BBC News. 7 March 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
- Richard M. Sherman (November 2, 2007). "LAist Interview: Richard M. Sherman". LAist (Interview). Interviewed by Brad Herman. Archived from the original on 10 April 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
- Sherman, Robert B.; Sherman, Richard M. (1998). Walt's Time: From Before to Beyond (1st ed.). Santa Clarita, CA: Camphor Tree. ISBN 978-0964605930.
- "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
- "Is "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" a real word referring to Irish hookers?". The Straight Dope. August 6, 2002. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
- "KTKA News: Mary Poppins involved in 44-year cover-up". Archived from the original on July 27, 2011.
- "Ghostface Killah (Ft. Cappadonna, Method Man & Redman) – Buck 50". Genius. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
- Whitburn, Joel (1993). Joel Whitburn's Top Adult Contemporary 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 17.
- Whitburn, Joel (1994). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990. Record Research. ISBN 978-0-89820-089-8.
- "Cash Box Top 100 Singles". May 15, 1965. Archived from the original on May 10, 2015. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
- "SUPER-CALIFRAGILISTIC-EXPIARI-DOCIOUSの歌詞 BOΦWY ORICON NEWS" (in Japanese). Oricon. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
- "Super Caley dream realistic?". BBC Sport. 22 March 2003.
- Scott Murray (12 December 2008). "The Joy of Six: great football headlines". The Guardian.
- Peter B Gilkey (2 May 2004). "Subject: 10 PUNS".
- Khomami, Nadia (July 21, 2017). "Dick Van Dyke sorry for 'atrocious cockney accent' in Mary Poppins". The Guardian. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
- Lowe, Sid (1 March 2018). "It's time to dream of Europe for La Liga's trio of great overachievers". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
|Look up supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious" at the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health & Human Services (NIEHS). (Lyrics and mp3 audio clip).
- Mary Poppins (1964) at Reel Classics; features "Multimedia Clips": incl. Mary Poppins Highlights: "Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious!".
- on YouTube (official upload by DisneyMusicVEVO)