Words of Wonder

I am dancing all over the kitchen and singing in the shower. I am trying to throw pixie dust on a New Year. After the last two pandemic-centered years, I am creating a picture of a better year. The creative joy of dancing, singing, and even creating a few crazy words or songs lifts us up. Let’s embrace the joy to be found in a new year.

Do you have a word that just makes you silly-happy? How about enjubiphoric? It is not a well-known because I just created it, and I guess you can guess what words I used to invent it. Enjoy. Jubilant. Euphoric. If your put those feelings into one word, I think it bursts with happiness. I want that for the coming year. Indeed, this is how words and the languages that come of words have been created for thousands of years.

According to the latest report of the Ethnologue, a resource that counts languages, there are currently 7,139 human languages on our planet. We are gifted at creating words. Here is the journey of one such word that millions of people love. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

In 1931 Helen Herman created a silly word that has brought cheer to thousands in audiences throughout the world. She created a word of “all words in the category of something wonderful.”  In an editorial for The Syracuse Daily Orange, Helen shared her word – supercaliflawjalisticeexpialidoshus.”

This silly word comes to us from a story we have come to love. Mary Poppins was a series of children’s books published in 1934 by an Australian author, P.L. Travers. While Travers real life family inspired the story of the Banks family in Mary Poppins, in truth, the story is a reframing of her difficult childhood. When she was quite young Traver’s actual mother attempted suicide, and her father died after a seizure, but in a New Yorker article (2005) Travers stated she “always believed the underlying cause was sustained, heavy drinking.”

After her father’s death, Travers grew close to her great-aunt Helene Morehead or Aunt Sass. In the semi-autobiographical book, Aunt Sass, Travers described her aunt as a one-of-a-kind character who was rigid and firm but oh so fun. She could create words, songs, and adventures that would captivate any child. Probably any adult. Years later when she had the idea to write her series of books, Travers found herself inspired by her aunt who became her nanny. In Aunt Sass she wrote,

“We write more than we know we are writing. We do not guess at the roots that made our fruit,” she writes. “I suddenly realised that there is a book through which Aunt Sass, stern and tender, secret and proud, anonymous and loving, stalks with her silent feet. You will find her occasionally in the pages of Mary Poppins.”

It was no wonder that Walt Disney fought for years to bring this story of Aunt Sass to the screen and when he finally did, he gave us an iconic story of a magical nanny who could create words or rhymes, pull hat racks from her bag, carry you on magical adventures, or create words like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious.”

Although the real-life Mary Poppins, Aunt Sass, created many nonsense words, she did not invent this one. The songwriters for the film, Richard and Robert Sherman, who wrote the song lyrics probably created or recreated this fun-filled word. Although no one can prove this, one of the brothers probably stumbled upon Helen Herman’s fantastical version of the word penned in 1931 and tweaked it to fit their catchy song. Voila! Millions of people have been crooning “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” since Julie Andrews first appeared on the screen singing it in 1964. I am humming it as I write!

Last fall when my young friend, Mason Berchman, was signed to star as Jane in Mary Poppins, at the local Hale Theater, I signed on to go with friends. After two years of hibernation, I felt like a COVID hermit. Since I had my shots and my booster, I wanted to weave my way back into my community, and this small theater was a good excuse. Before I had a ticket, I was already infected with that delightful ditty. “If you say it slow enough, you’ll always sound precious!”

Indeed, Mary Poppins was the perfect segue way into somewhat-normal-again. Mason could not have charmed an audience more by creating such a charming character who carried us into the story and her passion for it. Amid the actors dancing and singing I was carried into the moment and into the magic of living that can be lost amid a pandemic.

Some words hold us. Mesmerize us. Lead us to magical stories such as Mary Poppins. For this I am grateful, and I am prepared to carry that magic forward into this beautiful day and into the coming New Year. May we all find magical words and experiences to sustain and grow us in 2022. Happy New Year!