Beyond embiggens and cromulent
Everyone knows (4th para) the Simpsons is really all about linguistics — and these links are just what I could come up with in a few quick searches here and there.
In a post to the Linguist List several years ago, I noted some theoretically-interesting examples of Simpsons language humor, and said that someone should collect more. Well, if I want something done well, I usually try not to do it myself, but I’ve been keeping a list off and on, and thought this might be a good place to share it.
It doesn’t include the timeless classics embiggens and cromulent — see this Linguist List post for discussion of them — and it doesn’t include Bart’s prank calls to Moe, although they are relevant for their phonological and phonotactic properties, because they’re already well-documented. This list begins with the examples from my original post (also on Beatrice Santorini’s excellent linguistic humor web page), and then goes on to the ones I’ve collected since. The episode numbers are mostly those provided on the The Simpsons official home page, though I don’t know if I've been 100 per cent consistent.
Episode: I'm With Cupid, Episode #1014 AABF11
Productive derivational morphology
Kent Brockman is narrating a story about how Apu is giving his wife many extravagant presents for Valentine's day, and the rest of the town's wives are annoyed at their husbands for their comparative romantic lameness. He says something like:
"One Springfield man is treating his wife to an extra-special valentine's day this year, (sotto voce) and introubulating the rest of us."
Episode: Miracle on Evergreen Terrace, Episode # 910 5F07
The Simpsons' house has been broken into on Christmas eve, and all their christmas presents and decorations stolen. Homer is telling his woes to Moe. Moe says, "You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Society!"
Episode: Miracle on Evergreen Terrace, Episode # 910 5F07
Constituency in verb-particle constructions
Kent Brockman is narrating a news story about the Simpsons' misfortune. The story starts something like:
"Something WAS stirring in one Springfield house this Christmas eve, and what it was stirring was up trouble!"
Episode: Mountain of Madness, Episode # 812 4F10
Deixis in personal pronouns:
Homer has brought his family along on a business team-building exercise in the woods, and Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie are stuck in the National Park Service building while all the employees are off team-building. Bart is standing in front of a Smokey the Bear statue, who has an electronic voice and a little 'quiz' to administer. Bart and Smokey have the following exchange:
Smokey: (electronic intonation) "Who is the only one who can stop forest fires?
Bart: (examines response panel, which has two buttons, marked "you" and "me". He presses "you").
Smokey: (electronic intonation) "You pressed YOU, meaning me. This is incorrect. You should have pressed ME, meaning you.
Episode: “Bart’s Inner Child,” Episode # 1F04
Loss of adjectival -ed in Adj-Noun compounds
"I feel like such a free spirit, and I'm really enjoying this so-called ... iced cream."
(From Sophia Malamud’s sumer 2004 Ling 101 lecture 1 at UPenn.)
Episode: Pray Anything, Episode # 1410 EABF06
Lisa & Bart have exchange with basketball player Lisa Leslie. Lisa says, “You got game!” LL corrects her, “I think you mean ‘you have game’.” and lectures her on speaking correctly. Bart says “You go girl!” and LL says, “I will depart, lest your bad grammar rub off on me.”
Episode: Treehouse of Horror VII Episode # 801, 4F02
Productive derivational morphology (with ‘big’ again)
Prof. Van Frink builds a debigulator. Lisa proposes he also look into making a rebigulator.
Episode: On a Clear Day I Can’t See My Sister, Episode # 1611 GABF05 SI-1605
Resyllabification (also possibly loss of adjectival -ed)
Bart is in jail for violating his restraining order against Lisa. In the cell next to him is Lou. Chief Wiggum says, ‘See what happens when you bring my coffee back cold?’ Lou says, “But you asked for an iced coffee!” Chief Wiggum says, “No, I asked for a NICE coffee, Lou.”
Episode: Marge in Chains. Episode # 421 9F28
English spelling, borrowed consonant cluster reduction
Troy McClure is introducing an infomercial, says “I’m Troy McClure, star of such films as ‘P is for Psycho’”.
Episode: Co-Dependent’s Day. Episode #: 1515 EABF10 SI-1510
Back-formation, morphology, bound cran-morphs:
Marge is in an al-anon meeting and Otto says, “You know how some people are chocoholics? Well, I’m an ALcoholic!”
(approx 20 mins into episode)
Same episode 3 minutes later:
Marge says to the group, “My name is Marge S, and I’m a Homerholic!’ Otto says, “You’re drinking homerhol? I’ll take a swig!”
Episode: All’s Fair in Oven War. 1602 EABF23 SI-1520
Gendered nouns, second language.
Luigi the Italian chef taunts Marge, saying, “Yo, Marge! Your recipe, she is pathetic!” Marge says, “She is not!”
Episode: “Today, I am a clown” Episode # 1506 EABF01 SI-1501
Crusty on the Jewish Walk of Fame, says, “I’m a bigger name than Chaim Potok! What is he, some kind of Klingon?” (sthing like [xajəm potɑk] — thanks to Andrew Carnie for this link to quick-and-dirty (or slow-and-dirty anyway) IPA in web pages.)
Episode: My mother the carjacker. Episode # 1502 EABF18
Kent Brockman is announcing the winner of the ‘Oops’ award this week, and says, ‘It goes to...’
Homer, in an agony of anticipation, goes, ‘Whom? Whom?’
Episode: Treehouse of Horror I. Episode # 203 7F04
The Simpsons are abducted and Kang is addressing them for the first time. Marge says, “You speak English!” Kang says, (something like) “Actually, I’m speaking Rigelian, but by an amazing coincidence, the two languages are exactly the same.”
Later in the episode, Marge is trying to thank Kang (or some alien) and says, “Thank you, Mr. ...??” Kang says something like, “In order for you to pronounce it properly, I would have to rip out your tongue”
Episode: Simpsons Halloween Episode IX. Episode # 1004 AABF01
Comparative/superlative morphophonological rules
Kent Brockman: “Another of Springfield’s belovedest citizens has been murdered.”
Episode: Treehouse of Horror XIV, Episode # 1501 EABF21
Death shows up at the door for Bart. Marge says, “Run like the [wajnd]!” Then when everybody looks at her, she says, “I only ever saw it written!”
Episode: ‘Weekend at Burnsie’s.’ Episode # 1316, DABF11
Phish: reading an announcement, says ‘potheads’ as ‘po-theeds’
Otto says ‘They call them fingers but I never see them fing.’
Episode: ‘She of little faith.’ Episode #1306, DABF02
Productive derivational morphology, verb-particle
Homer says, ‘The word unblowupable is thrown around a lot these days.’ while assembling a rocket.
before end of initial credits
Episode: “Bart the Fink” Episode #715, 3F12
Productive derivational morphology, roots:
Kent Brockman says Krusty is busted for ‘tax avoision’, then, “I don’t say ‘evasion’, I say ‘avoision’” (10 mins in)
Episode: “Home sweet home diddly-dum-doodly” Episode #704 3F01
Productive derivational morphology
Tooth falls out, Lisa whistles something
Morphologically induced extra syllables.
‘Saxomaphone’ Homer at 16 mins
‘Flanderseseses’ Homer at 23 mins.
Episode: “Diatribe of a mad housewife” Episode # 1510 EABF05
-er (over)application to particle verbs
Marge says ‘Long-time reader, first time stander-upper.’
(Aside: this frame, long-time Xer, first-time Yer is surely a snowclone, no?)
back-formation with negative prefixes
Homer notices ‘distracted’ wonders if anyone ever gets ‘tracted’
Episode: “Mother Simpson.” Episode # 708 3F06
Burns getting service at the post office. Worker looks at manual and says, “I don’t see Siam, Prussia OR autogyro.”
derivational morphology, lexicon change
Burns discussing phrenology says ‘bumpage’ and ‘brainpan’.
Episode: “I am furious yellow” Episode#: 287. Production#: DABF13
back-formation and productive derivational morphology with -ahol(ic) again
Homer’s got anger control problems, and says ‘I’m a rageaholic! I am addicted to rageahol!”
Episode: "The Sweetest Apu" 1319 DABF14 Original Airdate: 5/05/02
Count-mass distinction, ‘Universal Packager’ conventions.
Homer goes into the Quik-E-Mart and demands “A beer”. Apu brings out a keg. Homer: "And a six-pack to tide me over until I can open the keg.”
Episode: “Brother, can you spare 2 dimes?” 8F23
Roots and affixes, compositionality of derivational morphology
Joltin’ Joe Frazier says “the blah blah dictionary defines excellence as the quality or blah of being excellent.”
Episode: “C. E. D'oh” (#EABF10 / SI-1410) Homer runs the plant.
Synthetic & headless conjunctive compounds:
Mr. Burns calls Homer a ‘corn-fed man-cow’
Homer says, “And now begins my reign of terr......ific management!”
Lenny says, “I thought he was going to say ‘terror’!
Carl: I didn’t think he was going that way.
Mr. Burns says, “I worked here for three score and twain — 62 years in the ‘new English’”.
Episode: Skinner's Sense of Snow, Episode # 1208 CABF06
gonna-contraction ≠ coulda contraction
Bart: But I was gonna add buttresses!
Skinner: Gonna, shonna, wonna.
Also, don't miss this list on a Simpsons page; there's some overlap with the above, but others I haven't gotten.
Finally, of course, who could forget the episode in which Lisa builds a grammar bot for a science project? Linguo's every utterance is a language joke.
(Also in that episode, Lisa accidentally ends up at West Springfield Elementary and finds herself in a French class. As the students laugh at her, the teacher admonishes, “En français!” and they all nasalize their laughs.)
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Now that I have a good venue for them, I’ll post updates from time to time, maybe every time I collect five more. Do send your favorites!
(Really, it would be so easy to base an entire intro linguistics class entirely around the Simpsons... hmm. We are always trying to improve our FTE ratios... Might be worth trying. Update: Heck, these guys use 'em for math. Linguistics would be a cakewalk!)
Question Update: As I looked at a few Simpsons sites for this post, I noticed that the accepted orthography for Marge's trademark annoyed noise is mmm. This didn't seem adequate to me, and got me thinking about the difference between a regular prolonged bilabial nasal, [mmm] (the noise you make for yummy things, as in mmm... forbidden donut), and Marge's annoyed noise. It seemed to me it might be an ATR minimal pair, with [mmm] being [+ATR] and Marge's noise being (aggressively) [-ATR]. Does that make sense to any phonologists [shoulda mentioned phoneticians! d'oh. -hh] out there?
Update on question: Mark Liberman over at Language Log, who worries about phonetic issues on a professional basis, discusses the question and suggests Marge's noise might involve pharyngeal constriction. Now that the problem safely is in the hands of qualified experts, I can rest easy. (I will just add that, trying to approximate Marge's noise with my fingers on my larynx, it seems to lower.) I look forward to the results of the technical analysis!
Update update: Check out these spectrograms produced by the industrious q_pheevr!
Another update: And, check out the Simpsons characters' names in other languages, courtesy of Language Hat.
Update update update: ...and this follow up from Mark at Language Log. Now that he's got his database in hand, no doubt a full analysis is moments away. At one point he mentions a fiberoptic laryngoscope...I'd also been wondering about the possible utility in this matter of my colleague Diana Archangeli's ultrasound machine. Maybe when I get back to AZ in the fall I'll check it out.