edumacation, edumacated (1925)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Apr 26 23:43:25 UTC 2005

Alan C. L. Yu presented a paper at NELS 34 on "Reduplication in English
Homeric Infixation": <>.

Homeric infixation is a morphological construction that has recently
gained currency in Vernacular American English. People who are familiar
with this construction invariably credit the TV animation series, The
Simpsons, particularly the speech of the main character Homer Simpson, for
popularizing this construction. The basic pattern is best illustrated with
words with stress on odd-numbered syllables. In words which bear input
stress on the 1st and 3rd syllables only, the infix, -ma-, invariably
appears after the unstressed second syllable, whether the main stress is
on the first or the third syllable.

I'm not aware of Homer using the "-ma-" infix in any _Simpsons_ episode
other than "Lisa's Sax" (3G02, airdate 10/19/97), in which Homer figures
out that his daughter Lisa wants a "saxo-ma-phone" -- after guessing
"vio-ma-lin", "tuba-ma-ba", and "oboe-ma-boe" (Yu's paper focuses on the
partial reduplication that occurs when "-ma-" is infixed in a disyllable,
as in the the last two examples).

It's odd that Yu's paper doesn't mention the most common example of "-ma-"
infixation: "edumacate" and its derived forms, particularly "edumacation".
 (These forms lend themselves to dialect humor, of course, because they're
used to make fun of those unedumacated types who try to make their speech
sound sophistimacated.)

Googlecounts for some variants:

edumacation     27,000
edumication      1,480
edjumacation     2,330
edjumication       675
edjamacation       555
edumakation        518
ejumacation        231
ejamacation        158
edgumacation       154

"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).

See also the Langmaker Neologism Profile on the "-ma-" infix:

--Ben Zimmer

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