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In today’s post, “What’s the antonym for recommend?” an answerer answered "I discourage the blue sweater" sounds perfectly cromulent.”

As I am utterly unfamiliar with the word, “cromulent,” I looked for its meaning in Oxford, Cambridge and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries to find none of them registers this word. And Window Word 7 spelling checker keeps suggesting me to correct “cromulent” into “corpulent” or “crapulent” at this right moment I’m writing this question.

However, Wikitionary registers “cromulent,” and provides the definition as:

  • Fine, acceptable or normal; excellent, realistic, legitimate or authentic.

(Origin) 1996 February 18, Matt Groening et al., “Lisa the Iconoclast”, The Simpsons, Season 7, Episode 16.

I wonder how popular this word is among English speaking world. If a non-native speaker like me whose stock of vocabulary is very limited and are totally unsure of the good command of English uses this word in conversation with you - native speakers, does it sound out of place or overreaching?

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I'm surprised your spell-checker would suggest "cromulent". Word 2003 doesn't seem to think "cromulent" is a word. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 22 '11 at 21:15
    
I had to look it up myself :) –  Lynn Nov 23 '11 at 0:38
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@FrustratedWithFormDesiner. No, I didn’t say my spell checker suggests to use “cromulent.” It reject to accept “cromulent.” and innocently recommends me to use “corpulent” or “crapulent” in place of “cromulent.” –  Yoichi Oishi Nov 23 '11 at 3:28
    
@YoichiOishi, trivia: Is "reject to accept" correct usage as an alternative to "refuse to accept"? –  Pacerier Jul 8 at 9:08
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4 Answers 4

up vote 23 down vote accepted
  • 'Cromulent' is simply a made-up word, in fact, made up to describe another made-up word from the Simpson's animated show.
  • It was coined, as you noted, by the writers for that Simpsons episode in 1996. It has only caught on in certain circles. A very small minority of English speakers would recognize it and use it properly (as a synonym of 'acceptable').
  • Merriam-Webster, OED, etc, regularly try to add new words that are accepted with their given standards. I'm not sure exactly what standards each dictionary has, but usually frequency of use or usage in major/commonly read publications is one measure. A staff with editorial oversight usually makes these decisions to publish new words as officially recognized.
  • Wikipedia and Wiktionary are publically editable. There is some editorial oversight but only to the extent of stopping bad behavior, not really of content. As democratic and well-meaning as that is, it may not be particularly accurate or have the right nuance as to frequency of usage (not that M-W or OED is necessarily better at that, but their editorial process is more painstaking).
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+1 for good balanced summary of the issues. –  FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 1:38
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The OED and M-W's cromulency criteria is basically usage, as detailed in their FAQs. –  Hugo Nov 23 '11 at 7:14
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-1 all words are made up –  Celeritas Mar 20 at 6:58
    
@Mitch, What do you mean by a made-up word, and how does it differ from a non-made-up word? –  Pacerier Jul 8 at 9:04
    
@Pacerier Glad you asked! The word 'neologism' and the coherent concept it presents I suppose is not new to you. We are at a stage of civilization where we know the history of words before our own personal memories (at least in print). The OED (close to perfect, trustworthy, and by far the best) has a feature where they give citations of the earliest published instance of a word (with that meaning) found so far. But, in our literary culture, people may creatively construct a sequence of letters that has never been seen before, but with an extractable meaning. That is a made-up word. –  Mitch Jul 8 at 12:47
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I would steer clear of that one. It only exists as a joke in that Simpsons episode you referenced. Ms. Hoover only used it to support another joke word: embiggens. No one uses it seriously, but you might get a laugh out of it.

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+1 The only place you could get away with using "cromulent" during a conversation is when The Simpsons is the subject, or the people you are talking with are serious Simpsons fans. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 22 '11 at 21:16
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The first association I made when I saw the word "cromulent" was: Muppets! I could definitely picture Miss Piggy using that word. Apart from that, I agree that it should be avoided when having a normal conversation. –  Bjorn Nov 22 '11 at 21:45
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People can often use words that you don't know, but the meaning is clear from context. Cromulent falls into that category. –  DisgruntledGoat Nov 23 '11 at 11:54
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I don't watch The Simpsons, so saw the word here for the first times a few days ago. I suppose the equivalent in British English might be kosher.

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I believe it was invented in 'Blackadder the Third', where the joke actually made sense in context. –  TimLymington Nov 22 '11 at 22:59
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My sincerest contrafibularities, Tim –  Wudang Nov 22 '11 at 23:47
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@Tim: I'm afraid Wudang has you there! I'm pretty sure cromulent was made up by The Simpsons, almost certainly some years after Blackadder finished. On the other hand, The Simpsons also introduced feculent to a wider public at least a couple of centuries after it was first used. –  FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 1:37
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@TimLymington nope, "cromulent" is never said in Blackadder in any episode. You've fallen into the trap of believing unsubstantiated internet myths. –  DisgruntledGoat Nov 23 '11 at 11:52
    
OK, I was wrong. That episode only introduced `Contrafribblarites', 'anus-peptic', 'phrasmotic', 'compunctious'and 'pericombobulation', along with half a dozen words that actually exist (arguably). –  TimLymington Nov 23 '11 at 20:39
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Cromulent is somewhat of a self-demeaning joke that suggests a vapid and meaningless — but surprisingly pleasant — good thing. Its exact meaning is virtually impossible to convey since half of its purpose exists to not mean anything.

"I discourage the blue sweater" sounds perfectly cromulent.

To elaborate on this example, the writer is suggesting that discourage is appropriate answer for the original question but doesn't have any particular reason for it being so. Cromulent simultaneously suggests that discourage sounds good while pointing out that worrying about what a word sounds like is extremely nerdy and worth a good teasing. This teasing isn't meant to be applied toward the original question, however. The target of the joke here is the writer of the answer.

The reason this second meaning is attached is because cromulent only comes into play when the writer wants to sound impressive in an attempt to garner favor from the audience via a weird form of an appeal to authority. There are plenty of perfectly good words to use in place of cromulent but, instead of using those words, the writer chose a fancy, pretentious word in its place. Except... it isn't actually a word. It just sounds like a word. It thereby defeats its own purpose and makes the speaker sound less authoritative.

Except now it is a word because it fits in nicely with those of us who overanalyze stuff like the way words sound and what words mean. To get the full force of the joke, a suitable replacement for the fake word should be used as an adverb immediately before it. And — in a final fit of self-referential humor — cromulent sounds wonderfully cromulent. How can you resist using it?

Naturally, the more it is used the less of all of the above applies. Eventually it will probably just mean something like "pretentiously pleasant" with a footnote in its etymology of how it once was an inside joke amongst linguists and fans of the Simpson's.

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+1 for "meaning changes with time". –  Pacerier Jul 8 at 9:06
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