Tagged: Mary Poppins

Crowdsourced Playlist: Songs Where the Writer Just Flagrantly Made Up a Word and Put It Right Out There (SWTWJFMUAWAPIROT)

MaryPoppinsSilenced

Each week, I host a “crowdsourced playlist.” I give the theme (and a few examples) and the crowd throws in their suggestions. Check out the progress on this week’s playlist below, or head over to Facebook to follow me and contribute.

Disney’s release of Mary Poppins was quickly followed by a copyright-infringement suit.

13 years before the film was released, Gloria Parker and Barney Young wrote a song titled ‘Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus,’ which Alan Holmes recorded. The songwriters understandably saw a strong similarity in one of the most popular songs in ‘Poppins.’ (The Parker/Young/Holmes song is not on Spotify, but you can hear it on YouTube)

“I find that ‘the word’ was known to and used by members of the public for many years prior to 1951, the date when plaintiffs allegedly published their song.”

-Judge Feinberg
Life Music, Inc. v. Broadcast Music


A year after Mary Poppins hit theaters, Parker and Young filed suit against Disney, alleging copyright-infringement of their song. The Sherman brothers, who wrote the music for the movie, stated they had invented the word when they were children, going so far as to provide an origin story for it. Disney ignored that history though, and appropriately for a lawsuit centered on a word made (nearly) out of whole cloth, Disney’s defense seemed to be freshly invented: “‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ is widely used slang,” they claimed.

In a decision that still leaves me incredulous, the judge found for Disney.

A few months later after the judge’s decision, a earlier use of the word was found in a Syracuse student newspaper article from 1931. Helen Herman wrote:

“Supercaliflawjalisticexpialadoshus” is the word to which I refer. I’ll admit it’s rather long and tiring before one reaches its conclusion, but once you arrive at the end, you have a feeling that you have said in one word what it would ordinarily take four paragraphs to explain.

Did the Sherman brothers make it up? Did Parker and Young hear or read the word and forget, imagining they had invented it? Has this 14-syllable word been spontaneously invented two or more times? We’ll likely never know.

Back in October, the theme was playlist-of-playlists, with several people coming up with great ideas. One of them was my dear friend Carrie Weiner Campbell, who suggested a playlist of songs with made up words. It seems like a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious idea, so let’s do it.

There was no good place to link to Ben Zimmer’s post about this on Visual Thesaurus, but it’s worth a read if you’d like to learn more about the history of the copyright claims. I first read the core details of this story years ago on Music You (Probably) Won’t Hear Anywhere Else, but the post seems to have since been removed.