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A Noble Spirit Embiggens the Smallest Man

Jebediah Springfield’s word “embiggen” was on my mind yesterday, as in the song: (quoted from snpp)

Hitch that team up Jebediah Springfield,
whip them horses, let them wagons roll.
That a people might embiggen America,
that a man might embiggen his soul.

The nifty thing about this word (described by Ms. Hoover (app. a native Springfieldian?) as “perfectly cromulent”) is how close it comes to calquing the somewhat legit frenchy “aggrandize”. “Enlarge” is along the same lines but more nativized…

Springfield is a sort of funhouse mirror for Americans, and the Springfielders’ Englished-up “embiggen” is counterpointed by at least one instance of a Springfield resident expressing contempt for non-native words. (We in the real world are not entirely strangers to this sort of boorish know-nothingism lately, with the “Käse verzehrende Kapitulationsaffen” hilarious targets as ever)

Homer: Hmm. I wonder why he’s so eager to go to the garage?
Moe: The “garage”? Hey fellas, the “garage”! Well, ooh la di da, Mr. French Man.
Homer: Well what do _you_ call it?
Moe: A car hole!

People have a hard time quoting things correctly. This line (the above is from snpp) shows up as

Here: Moe: “Garage?” “Garage?” Hey fella’s, the “Garaaaaage”!! Well la-di-da Mr. Frenchman!

Here: Moe: “Garage… Garage… Well, if it ain’t
mista fancy-pants Frenchman….!”

Here: Moe: “Oooh…lah dee dah…the *garage*…ain’t we fancy…” [acknowledged to be a mere paraphrase]

Here: Moe: A garage? Hey fellas, a garage. Well, oh la de da, Mr. French man.

I assume the obsessive and assiduous snpp has the quote right – “ooh la dee da” combines “la dee da” with the comically Gallic “ooh la la” nicely.

Moe Szyslak, of course, is no descendant of Jebediah Springfield’s original band of pioneers. I believe his adult accent is some sort of New York, but the show drops hints that he is an immigrant not only to Springfield but to the United States as well. Groening et al. are shifty about exactly where he’d be from (Italy? Arab lands? Eastern Europe?) – presumably because many kinds of foreigners is funnier than just one kind.

But to hell with verbal nativism. I love syncretic English, which has welcomed a millennium’s worth of linguistic immigrants. The original “lean unlovely” language has turned sprawling, farraginous, all-including (better to spell that with a dash, I think – too much Saxon vigor might seem pretentious). I love being able to choose between oversight, supervision and surveillance – between shit, scat and fæcal matter. English is the tropical rainforest of languages, a fecund breeding-ground of lexical biodiversity.

Incidentally, there are false etymologies of cromulent circulating out there. There are also hundreds of usages which don’t refer explicitly to the Simpsons. The “perfectly” which accompanied cromulent on its maiden voyage is sometimes by its side, sometimes not.

My personal opinion is that cromulent is a funny sounding word, but phonesthetically a little ill-suited to its meaning – too many words which end in “-ulent” in English have undesirable or ugly meanings: e.g. corpulent, crapulent, flatulent, fraudulent, opulent, truculent and virulent.

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