The first episode of The Simpsons aired twenty-five years ago, on 17 December, 1989, and since then, English has never been the same. Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, and their friends in Springfield, Wherever-it-is, have given us fancy words of pure invention, worthy of Lewis Carroll, like cromulent ‘legitimate, but not really’, and words built from worthy English parts, like the blend of opposites in craptacular ‘crappy, with attitude’ andembiggening ‘enlarging’, as well as catch phrases like cowabunga, dude!, and Don’t have a cow. Embiggening is the sort of word you make up from scratch when you’re lacking the edumacation to know that enlarge already exists, and edumacation is the sort of word you use if you also use embiggening. The infix –ma– is a Homerism, and it’s productive —metabomalism, pantomamime, macamadamia, saxomaphone — in words that already have too many syllables for Homer to handle. He hears and reanalyzes them in a rock-a-bye nursery rhyme rhythm. For all of Homer’s verbal pyromatechnics, however, Ned Flanders is the series’ king of indiddlyfixing.
Two small but powerful words
Aside from all of the lexical antics we have come to expect from the world’s favorite yellow family, they have embiggened English with two small but powerful words, words that aptly capture what it’s meant to be human during the Simpsons decades — d’oh andmeh. D’oh and meh are enshrined in dictionaries, not to mention used IRL, in speech and writing. Whereas other Simpsons words are clever and flashy and show that we can make our world anew in language and enjoy the making, d’oh and meh reduce experience to the minimal elements of speech, just two speech sounds each, fewer than in some other interjections — aha! and oh, dear, for instance — and all of the expletivesthat come to mind. Each is spelled with three letters in the dictionaries, but those aitchesare meant to avoid confusion with do and me and also modify the vowels, which are not ones we usually use at the ends of words — there’s bet but no beh, debt but no deh, tête-a-tête but no têh-a-têh. D’oh and meh are thus strange and powerful words.