Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More on -ma-

Ben Zimmer, on the American Dialect Society List (ADS-L) pointed me to another use of the -ma-infix by Dr. Seuss:

The word Xylomaphone appears in the 1970 animated film "Horton Hears a Who", directed by Chuck Jones, based on the Dr. Seuss book of the same name.

Very cool. He also pointed out that the infix probably comes from pseudo-nonsense words like thingamabob or whatchamacallit.
Here's a link to a previous post on the ADS-L that includes discussion of edumacation. This use goes all the way back to Popeye. Another example of the Recency Illusion, the belief that things YOU have noticed only recently are in fact recent.
It's odd that Yu's paper doesn't mention the most common example of "-ma-"
infixation: "edumacate" and its derived forms, particularly "edumacation".

"Edumacation" is chiefly associated not with Homer Simpson but another
epenthesis-prone cartoon character, Popeye.

Although Olive is equally smitten with her heroic sailor, she's still
easily impressed by anyone who has more "edumacation and ettiket" than

The only example I've found so far from the archives of "Thimble Theater
Starring Popeye" is with the spelling "edjamacation":

1959 _Lancaster Eagle Gazette_ (Ohio) 27 Aug. 31 ["Thimble Theatre" comic
strip by Tom Sims and B. Zaboly] Age makes no difference... Every blastid
people is guaranteed an edjamacation an' me pappy didn't get his!!

There are also listings on eBay and the rec.collecting newsgroup for a
1962 Viewmaster reel entitled "Swee'Pea's Edjamacation".

The earliest examples for "edumacation" and "edumacated" that I've found
are from two 1925 columns in a Virgina newspaper written in jocular German
dialect spelling.

* edumacation

1925 _Bee_ (Danville, Va.) 19 Nov. 7/6 (heading) What is, and by who comes
the right idea of edumacation in Danville, Virginia?
1925 _Ibid_. Say, won't you please tell me once just what is Edumacation?
Gives it the real idea of Edumcation by so many other citizens of
Danville, or only by a few "trustys" of a habertacle. ... I don't know. I
lacks Edumacation and I wants to know. ... Even mit my little Edumacation
I read it that a house divided against itself can't stand it. ... Yours in
the cause of trusty Edumacation, Chulius Gansheimer.
1925 _Bee_ (Danville, Va.) 21 Nov. 13/6 (heading) What gives it
edumacation, and dot "patriotism" in Danville, Va.
1925 _Ibid_. Next I asks me vunce to help get der edumacation, you know.
... To me, it looks like the best defense Catolics got it now, is the
search-light of publicity; and I believe, mit my little edumacation dey
goin' now to use dot search-light. ... Yours in the cause of trusty
Edumacation, Chulius Gansheimer.

* edumacated

1925 _Bee_ (Danville, Va.) 21 Nov. 13/6 Yah! I writes me more questions
and dings to try to get better edumacated. ... Again you look 'em up if
you want to be edumacated on both sides.

(The columns also have the forms "edumacational" and "unedumacational".)

I would expect earlier examples could be found in Black English dialect
writing, either jocular or not. Here's a humorous example from Geneva

1976 G. SMITHERMAN in _English Journal_ 65 (2) Feb. 14/2 And if some of
y'all need some mo edumacation in this area, just pressure yo school
system to provide a staff development program.

And here's a serious example, from the transcription of an ex-slave
narrative recorded by the Federal Writers' Project:

c1941 R. WILLIAMS in J. Mellon _Bullwhip Days_ (2002) 129 Dere am no
edumacation for de niggers.

Mellon's _Bullwhip Days_ unfortunately does not give much background
information on the narratives, but I believe this is the reference for the
original transcription:

Rose Williams, Manuscript Slave Narrative Collection, Federal Writers'
Project, 1941, vol. 17, Texas Narratives, Pt. 4, pp. 174-178, quoted in
Nancy Woloch, ed., Early American Women: A Documentary History, 1600-1900
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997), 245-246.

The FWP slave narratives were first published in B. A. Botkin's _Lay My
Burden Down_ (1945). But Botkin cleaned up the transcriptions, as
explained in the preface: "In accordance with the same criteria of truth
and readability, the original attempts at dialect-writing, successful and
unsuccessful, were abandoned, except for a few characteristic and
expressive variations." So the above sentence from Rose Williams is
rendered as: "There am no education for the niggers."

A large portion of the online examples of "edumacation" and
"(un)edumacated" are used in the service of racist humor (particularly on
Usenet newsgroups).

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