Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” ( /ˌsuːpərˌkælɨˌfrædʒɨˌlɪstɪkˌɛkspiːˌælɨˈdoʊʃəs/) 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. Since Mary Poppins was a period piece set in 1910, period-sounding songs were wanted. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” sounds like contemporary music hall songs “Boiled Beef and Carrots” and “Any Old Iron”

Origin

According to Richard M. Sherman, co-writer of the song with his brother, Robert, the word was created by them in two weeks, mostly out of double-talk

The roots of the word have been define as follows: super- “above”, cali- “beauty”, fragilistic- “delicate”, expiali- “to atone”, and docious- “educable”, with the sum of these parts signifying roughly “Atoning for educability through delicate beauty.” Although the word contains recognizable English morphemes, it does not follow the rules of English morphology as a whole. The morpheme -istic is a suffix in English, whereas the morpheme ex- is typically a prefix; so following normal English morphological rules, it would represent two words: supercalifragilistic and expialidocious. The pronunciation also leans towards it being two words since the letter c doesn’t normally sound like a k when followed by an e, an i or a y.

According to the film, it is defined as “something to say when you have nothing to say”


Story context

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 they 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.

Backwards version

During the song, Poppins says, “You know, you can say it backwards, which is ‘dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirepus’, but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?

Some[who?] have pointed out that when the word is spelled backwards, it becomes “suoicodilaipxecitsiligarfilacrepus”, which is not at all similar to Poppins’ claim. However, 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 reverses the spelling of “super” to “repus”, one does come close to what Poppins said in the film.

In the stage musical, the word’s proper reversal is used.

Legal action

In 1965, the song was the subject of an unsuccessful lawsuit by songwriters Gloria Parker and Barney Young against Wonderland Music, who published the version of the song from the Walt Disney film. The plaintiffs alleged that it was a copyright infringement of a 1951 song of their own called “Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus”. Also known as “The Super Song”, “Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus” was recorded by Alan Holmes and his New Tones on Columbia Records, vocal by Hal Marquess and the Holmes Men, music and lyrics by Patricia Smith (a Gloria Parker pen name). In addition, “Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus” was recorded on Gloro Records(45) by The Arabian Knights. The Disney publishers won the lawsuit partially because affidavits were produced showing that “variants of the word were known … many years prior to 1949”.

Stage musical

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 sign language that was suggested by choreographer Stephen Mear, whose partner is deaf.

Olympic history

Rodney Pattison 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.

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