How to Pronounce Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” entered the world’s lexicon with little explanation and barely a definition after the release of ‘Mary Poppins’ in 1964. New words entering the cultural zeitgeist more recently happen often, since the dictionary makers allow slang words to appear in the reference book. The movie, ‘Mary Poppins’ tells the story of an English nanny who brought a fun but stern demeanor to a pair of upper-class children and their family.
The song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, a silly and catchy tune performed by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, immediately became one of the most recognizable parts of the film. Even though the word is uttered ten times in the song, it can still be a fun tongue-twister for many. So, how do you pronounce “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?” Trust us, you will not sound atrocious after you finish this article.
Nonsense, but With Meaning!
When Walt Disney and his namesake company were working on ‘Mary Poppins’, they hired a pair of brothers to help write the soundtrack for the movie. Richard and Robert Sherman became the music makers for this classic film and quickly began working on the music.
The song, believe it or not, did not birth this word. In fact, versions of it stretch back to 1931, when writer Helen Herman appears to have first coined it. In writing an editorial for her college newspaper, ‘The Syracuse Daily Orange’, Herman gave the world this saccharinely sweet word of pure nonsense.
How the Sherman brothers got hold of the word and turned it into one of Julie Andrews most enduring songs remains a mystery. Regardless of the context, the brothers received a copyright lawsuit over their use of it. The writers of a similarly sounding song called “Supercalafajalistickespialadojus,” sued Disney and the Shermans, but legal officials dismissed the suit.
We can finally get to the meaning with the word’s background firmly aside. Thanks to ‘Mary Poppins’, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” has a dictionary meaning. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is an adjective denoting “extremely good”.
This meaning flies in the face of the word’s purpose in the song, “something to say when you have nothing to say.”
Julie Andrews and her husband at the time did find a way to add more to the song with an ad-libbed line. It took practice for Andrews to nail it, but like any consummate voice actor, she sang the word backward to add an extra layer of silliness to the proceedings.
In an interview with NPR, while promoting her autobiography, Andrews revealed that she can still pronounce the word backward. Indeed, Andrews continues to have a vibrant acting legacy in large part thanks to her lead role in ‘Mary Poppins’. Her song still appears in popular culture, including for an audition on ‘The Voice’ in 2021.
Backward or forwards, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is a complex word, one some might even call gibberish.
So, It’s Gibberish?
At first glance, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is gibberish, but its enduring legacy is that the most absurd words can evolve to mean something to everyone. Even the Sherman brothers acknowledged the word as one they would likely use as children to fill dead air.
Any parent will tell you this behavior is par for the course for kids, especially when they are younger. After all, gibberish is part of any child’s language development.
Even twin children often make up language to communicate with one another. That practice is called “cryptophasia” and it has been a subject of study by speech pathologists and psychologists for decades.
So, made-up words are not a new phenomenon. Perhaps you have heard of the concept of “neologism,” defined as a “newly coined word or expression.” Neologisms and slang terms have sprung up with the rapid rise of the Internet in the past 30 years.
“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is very much a neologism thanks to its introduction in ‘Mary Poppins’.
Why Do People Struggle To Pronounce It?
If you were to look at “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” for the first time, you might get lost in the sheer tongue-twisting nature of the word’s construction.
At 34 letters long, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is not even the longest word in the Dictionary. That honor is bestowed upon a 45-letter medical term that we will not even dare try to pronounce (you can take a crack at it, though): “Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis”.
But, if you are among those who struggle to pronounce “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, a road map might be the best way to put you on the path to success.
A Pronunciation Road Map
Breaking down a complex word can help anyone pronounce it, from voice actors to students. Teachers and speech pathologists refer to this as “decoding“. This method helps readers get over word humps. We will use that here to aid you in your quest to conjure the spirit of Mary Poppins:
So, we will start with the first portion of this word: “super.”
With that one out of the way, we can move on to “cali.” Our friends in California know this one well!
Moving forward, we have “fragilistic.” Think of it like the word “fragile,” but with “listic” at the end of it.
“Expi” comes next. This part is not difficult to trip over in your journey to pronounce the entire word.
And now, “ali.” Pronounce this element exactly as you would say the word “ally.” We are almost to the end!
To conclude, we have arrived at “docious.” This portion is tricky, but pronounce it as “doe-shus.”
We can now put the whole word together: “super-cali-fragilistic-expi-ali-docious.” Thinking of the word as a series of words makes it less troublesome to pronounce.
The key to mastering the full pronunciation is to speed up when you say it each time.
Even if you do not use our road map, you can always pull up the Broadway production of the song to further guide you.
With this guide on hand, you are well on your way to mastering “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” whether you’re a voice actor or not. Attempting to pronounce the word should be a breeze with our decoding tools placed firmly in your toolbelt. So, use these helpful tips to go from atrocious to precocious with a smile and an infectious tune on hand.
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