CLOSE
Original image
it's a perfectly cromulent word, via fox

11 Best Uses of Bad Grammar from The Simpsons

Original image
it's a perfectly cromulent word, via fox

When it comes to comedy, sometimes a little grammatical wrongnity is exactly what’s called for. Here are 11 examples from The Simpsons that are bad in just the right ways.

1. A NOBLE SPIRIT EMBIGGENS THE SMALLEST MAN

Episode: “Lisa the Iconoclast”

The town motto of Springfield takes the air out of the hifalutin’ pretentiousness of lofty sloganeering by sticking a simple “big” where it doesn’t belong. When Mrs. Krabappel questions the correctness of “embiggens,” Ms. Hoover responds that it's a "perfectly cromulent word.” Both “embiggen” and “cromulent” have gone on to successful careers as words in the real world.

2. ME FAIL ENGLISH? THAT’S UNPOSSIBLE!

Episode: “Lisa on Ice”

A classic Ralph Wiggum moment. Sweet cluelessness compounded. He thinks he’s winning an award, but is instead handed an “academic alert.”

3. ONE SPRINGFIELD MAN IS TREATING HIS WIFE TO AN EXTRA SPECIAL VALENTINE’S DAY THIS YEAR, AND INTROBULATING THE REST OF US.

Episode: "I’m with Cupid”

When Kent Brockman delivers his Valentine’s Day news report he creates a new word for “getting in trouble” that allows him to maintain the newscasters’ convention of introducing a personal interest story with the frame “and Xing the rest of us.”

4. ME LOVE BEER

Episode: “Trilogy of error”

When Lisa introduces Homer to Linguo, her grammar correcting robot, he says “me love beer.” When Linguo corrects him, saying “I love beer,” the correction angle goes right over Homer’s head, and taking Linguo at his word, Homer gets him a beer. Friendliness trumps grammatical chagrin for the win.

5. IF YOU’RE SO SURE WHAT IT AIN’T, HOW ‘BOUT TELLING US WHAT IT AM!

Episode: “Lisa the Skeptic”

Moe says this to Lisa after an archaeological dig turns up a mysterious skeleton that the residents of Springfield think is an angel. Lisa is trying to convince them that there must be a more rational explanation. He challenges her eggheaded pleas with the folksy “ain’t” and “’bout,” and caps it all off with the ultimate anti-smarty-pants challenge, “it am.”

6. YOU KNOW WHAT REALLY AGGRAVAZES ME? IT’S THEM IMMIGANTS. THEY WANTS ALL THE BENEFITS OF LIVING IN SPRINGFIELD, BUT THEY AIN’T EVEN BOTHER TO LEARN THEMSELVES THE LANGUAGE.

Episode: “Much Apu about Nothing”

Another great line from Moe, capturing the all too real phenomenon of people complaining about immigrants’ language skills while showing their own lack of skills. Homer responds, “Hey, those are exactly my sentimonies.”

7. STOP IT YOU WANT-WIT! I COULD GET STUNG BY A BUMBLED BEE!

Episode: “Goo Goo Gai Pan”

While giving Mr. Burns a driving test so he can replace his expired license, Selma, suffering a hot flash, tries to open the convertible top. Mr. Burns yells this at her in his signature style—nonsense that sounds convincingly like old-timey sense.

8. DOES EVERY SIMPSON GO THROUGH A PROCESS OF DUMBENING? HEY, THAT’S NOT HOW YOU SPELL "DUMBENING." WAIT A MINUTE, DUMBENING ISN’T EVEN A WORD!

Episode: “Lisa the Simpson”

Lisa writes this in her diary, worrying that she is losing her intelligence due to a “Simpson Gene.” But even though she’s supposed to sound like her smarts are in question, the use of “dumbening” is very Lisa. “Go through a process of dumbening” is much more bookish sounding than “get dumber.”

9. WE MUST FACE UP TO THE UNFACEUPTOABLE

Episode: “Trash of the Titans”

Mayor Quimby’s comment on the budget crisis caused by Homer’s disastrous run as Sanitation Commissioner is easy to understand, despite its grammatical sins.

10. WE’VE SQUOZEN OUR WHOLE SUPPLY! TO THE LEMON TREE!

Episode: “Lemon of Troy”

Milhouse shouts this after all the lemons have been used up at his lemonade stand. If we have “freeze-frozen,” why not “squeeze-squozen”? It sounds like a completely reasonable antiquated past participle. The form fits well with Milhouse’s dramatic, slightly Shakespearean rallying cry.

11. JUDGE A PIG COMPETITION? BUT I’M NO SUPER GENIUS … OR ARE I?

Episode: “Simple Simpson”

Homer, of course. Even better than the presupposition that judging a pig competition involves being a super genius is the ridiculous, devious, and oh so Homer “or are I?” that follows. You am, Homer. Of course you am.

For more Simpsons language play, check out Heidi Harley's collection of linguistically relevant Simspons jokes here.

Original image
Rebecca O'Connell
arrow
Words
What's the Longest Word in the World? Here are 12 of Them, By Category
Original image
Rebecca O'Connell

Antidisestablishmentarianism, everyone’s favorite agglutinative, entered the pop culture lexicon on August 17, 1955, when Gloria Lockerman, a 12-year-old girl from Baltimore, correctly spelled it on The $64,000 Question as millions of people watched from their living rooms. At 28 letters, the word—which is defined as a 19th-century British political movement that opposes proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England—is still regarded as the longest non-medical, non-coined, nontechnical word in the English language, yet it keeps some robust company. Here are some examples of the longest words by category.

1. METHIONYLTHREONYLTHREONYGLUTAMINYLARGINYL … ISOLEUCINE 

Note the ellipses. All told, the full chemical name for the human protein titin is 189,819 letters, and takes about three-and-a-half hours to pronounce. The problem with including chemical names is that there’s essentially no limit to how long they can be. For example, naming a single strand of DNA, with its millions and millions of repeating base pairs, could eventually tab out at well over 1 billion letters.

2. LOPADOTEMACHOSELACHOGALEOKRANIOLEIPSAN …P TERYGON

The longest word ever to appear in literature comes from Aristophanes’ play, Assemblywomen, published in 391 BC. The Greek word tallies 171 letters, but translates to 183 in English. This mouthful refers to a fictional fricassee comprised of rotted dogfish head, wrasse, wood pigeon, and the roasted head of a dabchick, among other culinary morsels. 

3. PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS

At 45 letters, this is the longest word you’ll find in a major dictionary. An inflated version of silicosis, this is the full scientific name for a disease that causes inflammation in the lungs owing to the inhalation of very fine silica dust. Despite its inclusion in the dictionary, it’s generally considered superfluous, having been coined simply to claim the title of the longest English word.

4. PARASTRATIOSPHECOMYIA STRATIOSPHECOMYIOIDES 

The longest accepted binomial construction, at 42 letters, is a species of soldier fly native to Thailand. With a lifespan of five to eight days, it’s unlikely one has ever survived long enough to hear it pronounced correctly.

5. PSEUDOPSEUDOHYPOPARATHYROIDISM

This 30-letter thyroid disorder is the longest non-coined word to appear in a major dictionary.

6. FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION

By virtue of having one more letter than antidisestablishmentarianism, this is the longest non-technical English word. A mash-up of five Latin roots, it refers to the act of describing something as having little or no value. While it made the cut in the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster volumes refuse to recognize it, chalking up its existence to little more than linguistic ephemera.

7. SUBDERMATOGLYPHIC

At 17 characters, this is the longest accepted isogram, a word in which every letter is used only once, and refers to the underlying dermal matrix that determines the pattern formed by the whorls, arches, and ridges of our fingerprints. 

8. SQUIRRELLED

Though the more commonly accepted American English version carries only one L, both Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries recognize this alternate spelling and condone its one syllable pronunciation (think “world”), making it the longest non-coined monosyllabic English word at 11 letters.

9. ABSTENTIOUS

One who doesn’t indulge in excesses, especially food and drink; at 11 letters this is the longest word to use all five vowels in order exactly once.

10. ROTAVATOR 

A type of soil tiller, the longest non-coined palindromic word included in an English dictionary tallies nine letters. Detartrated, 11 letters, appears in some chemical glossaries, but is generally considered too arcane to qualify.

11. and 12. CWTCH, EUOUAE

The longest words to appear in a major dictionary comprised entirely of either vowels or consonants. A Cwtch, or crwth, is from the Welsh word for a hiding place. Euouae, a medieval musical term, is technically a mnemonic, but has been accepted as a word in itself. 

Original image
Thinkstock
arrow
grammar
The Grammar Rules of 3 Commonly Disparaged Dialects 
Original image
Thinkstock

Linguists are always taken aback by the overwhelmingly negative and sometimes virulently expressed reaction they get when stating something that every linguist believes (and linguists do not agree on everything!) in a rather uncomplicated way: Every dialect has a grammar.

"Every dialect has a grammar" does not mean "everything is relative, and let's throw away all the dictionaries, and no one should go to school anymore, and I should be able to wear a bath towel to a job interview if I damn well please." What it means is that all dialects, from the very fanciest to the ones held in lowest esteem, are rule-governed systems. Here are three examples from three different commonly disparaged dialects that illustrate how dialects have grammar.

1. Appalachian a-prefixing

One of the most noticeable features of Appalachian English, which has been studied extensively by the linguists Walt Wolfram and Donna Christian, is the a- prefix that attaches to verbs. When people want to mock "hick" speech, they often scatter a-prefixed words around like "a-goin'" and "a-huntin'" and "a-fishin'," but if they don't actually speak the dialect, they usually make mistakes. That is because they don't know the rules of where a-prefixing can apply, and where it can't.

Rules? Yes, rules. To someone who speaks an a-prefixing dialect this sounds right: "He was a-huntin'."

But these sound wrong:

He likes a-huntin'.
Those a-screamin' children didn't bother me.
He makes money by a-buildin' houses.

It is not the case that a-prefixes can attach to any old word ending in -ing. They can attach to verbs, as in the first example. But not to gerunds (a verb serving as a noun for a general action), adjectives, or objects of prepositions, as in the other examples. The fact that those examples sound wrong to dialect speakers shows that there are conditions on where a-prefixes can go. The fact that those conditions can be described in terms of verbs, gerunds, adjectives, and prepositions show that the conditions have to do with the linguistic structure of sentences. A condition that depends on linguistic structure is a rule. A system of these rules is a grammar. This is what linguists mean when they talk about the grammar of a dialect.

People who speak this dialect don't learn these rules from a book. They know them implicitly, even if they can't describe them, the same way you know "I gave him a dollar" sounds good but "I donated him a dollar" sounds bad (even if you've never heard of linguistic argument structure). Their use of the dialect is not whimsical and random, but governed by those rules. Someone who doesn't follow those rules, e.g., in a hamfisted attempt to mock the dialect, can be said to be speaking ungrammatical Appalachian English.

2. Southern American English "liketa"

Often features that are seen as sloppy pronunciations of Standard English show themselves on closer inspection to be used in a non-sloppy, highly consistent way—but according to a different set of rules. In the Alabama dialect studied by linguist Crawford Feagin, speakers say things like, "She liketa killed me!", meaning that she just about started to kill me, but didn't. This "liketa" is not just a shortening of "would have liked to"; it's also possible to say "I liketa had a heart attack."

"Liketa" is close to being a substitute for "almost," but it doesn't behave exactly like that word either; you can ask "did you almost die?" but not "did you liketa died?"

"Liketa" is not just a lazy version of Standard English. You can describe the conditions for its use—the rules of "liketa." As Feagin says, it "occurs in both positive and negative sentences, but not in questions and commands. It may co-occur with the intensifier 'just'; it always occurs in the past." Because rules govern "liketa," it is possible to break those rules, and if you do you can be said to be using it ungrammatically.

3. African-American English stressed "BIN"

African-American English has a number of distinguishing features, one of them being the use of "stressed BIN," described by linguist John Rickford. It carries the main stress of the sentence and is distinct from unstressed "been." It occurs in sentences like "she BIN married," which does not mean "she has been married." It means "she is married, and has been for a long time."

Stressed BIN is like a remote past tense, something that Standard English lacks a simple marker for. It can also be used in places where Standard "been" would not occur, such as "I BIN ate it" (I ate it a long time ago).

There are structural conditions on where stressed BIN can and cannot occur. Its use is governed by rules. As linguist Lisa Green points out, it can't be moved to the front of the sentence for questions (BIN John and Lisa dating?) or used in a tagged question at the end (She BIN married, binn't she?), and it can't be used with phrases indicating a specific time (I BIN asked him bout that three weeks ago). Because there are grammatical conditions for the use of stressed BIN, it is possible to use it the wrong way, as nearly everyone who tries to mock it does.

More explanations of these phenomena and others can be found at the Yale Grammatical Diversity project, the mission of which is to serve as "a crucial source of data for the development of theories of human linguistic knowledge." However you feel about dialects and whether they are worthy of respect, the fact that human ways of speaking always settle into rule-governed systems, all describable in terms of the same set of basic linguistic concepts—that, at the very least, is pretty darn interesting. And frankly, the more you pursue what's interesting about it, the less emotional your judgments about dialects become.

This post originally appeared in 2013.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios