1) Ben Zimmer has tracked down the history of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, which is a lot more interesting than you might think (there was a song called “Supercalafajalistickespialadojus” in 1949, and supercaliflawjalisticexpialadoshus was created—or said to have been created—by Helen Herman a couple of decades earlier); you can read all about it at Visual Thesaurus or the Boston Globe.
2) From an early story by Fazil Iskander (Russian below the cut):

[My crazy uncle] spoke mainly in Abkhaz, but he cursed in two languages, Russian and Turkish. Apparently, combinations of words were engraved in his memory according to their degree of incandescence, and one can conclude that Russians and Turks, in moments of wrath, emit expressions of approximately the same emotional saturation.

3. I was recently listening to Andrew Hill’s infectious tune “Catta” (here from Bobby Hutcherson’s great 1965 record Dialogue), and I discovered that Eric Thacker wrote in Essential Jazz Records, Vol. 2: Modernism to Postmodernism (which I would recommend to any jazz fan): “Commentators have made too much of Hill’s Haitian infancy (in fact he grew up in Chicago and learned his jazz there), but his title Catta – a Port au Prince dialect – is his own acknowledgment of origin.” But I can find no indication that there is any such dialect; of course, Thacker might have meant “dialect word,” but that doesn’t get me anywhere either. So if anyone can provide further information, please do so.

The original Iskander quote:

Говорил он в основном по-абхазски, но ругался на двух языках: по-русски и по-турецки. По-видимому, сочетания слов в память ему врезались по степени накала. Отсюда можно заключить, что русские и турки в минуту гнева выдают выражения примерно одинаковой эмоциональной насыщенности.


  1. A “kata” or “cata” is a Haitian drum (see, e.g.,, and “cata” is a Vodoun-related dance ( There is also apparently an instrument called a “catta stick” in Jamaica. Allsopp’s Dict of Caribbean English Usage has “catta” (and variants) meaning “a round pad of cloth or dried leaves, placed on the head to ease the carrying of a load” in various parts of the Caribbean, but not, apparently, Haiti (

  2. Thanks very much! My mind is now burdened with one less mystery.

  3. Trond Engen says

    I was in a meeting with Lithuanian steelbuilders a couple of months ago. Like most of their countrymen they were proud of their language’s resistance to foreign influence, but they also said: “We swear in Russian. It’s the only language really suitable for swearing.”

  4. when in a brisk flow of spirits, I still swear in Afrikaans rather than English, having as it does a far wider selection of foul guttural apothegms..

  5. Just in case you are not familiar with the cheerfullest sports headline of all time

  6. They must have been saving that one up for years.

  7. Another great “super” word that I just learned: hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

  8. My mind is now burdened with one less mystery.

    You mean one mystery fewer.

  9. Hah!

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