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?

  • I'm surprised your spell-checker would suggest "cromulent". Word 2003 doesn't seem to think "cromulent" is a word. Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 21:15
  • I had to look it up myself :)
    – Lynn
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 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.” Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 3:28
  • @YoichiOishi, trivia: Is "reject to accept" correct usage as an alternative to "refuse to accept"?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 9:08
  • @Pacerier the meaning is understood, but to the native ear it sounds foreign. The common phrase is "refuse to accept", though Yoichi should have used the third-person conjugation "refuses".
    – treeface
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 2:05

5 Answers 5

  • '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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    The OED and M-W's cromulency criteria is basically usage, as detailed in their FAQs.
    – Hugo
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 7:14
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    -1 all words are made up
    – Celeritas
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 6:58
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    @Mitch, What do you mean by a made-up word, and how does it differ from a non-made-up word?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 9:04
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    @Mitch A word in the OED is a real word, so if it's not, it's made up? Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 23:39
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    The whole discussion of whether a word is "real" or not does nothing to embiggen understanding of the issue. If a word is understood in a community, you can use it there. The fact that it's huge on Urban Dictionary (and, as previously mentioned, on Wiktionary) is a good indicator that it's at least understood by a decent number of people.
    – treeface
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 2:33

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. Commented Nov 22, 2011 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
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 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. Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 11:54
  • Some people use it seriously. In fact, at least one person (me) registered a company using that word. Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 16:12

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.


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. Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 22:59
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    My sincerest contrafibularities, Tim
    – Wudang
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 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. Commented Nov 23, 2011 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. Commented Nov 23, 2011 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). Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 20:39

I have used the word myself and consider it a specific form of the word "valid" where applying to a word being proper or used properly. The last two times I used the word, my listener understood the word from having seen or heard the Simpson's episode it was used in. I think if enough English speakers are using it in 50 years it should then truly be considered cromulent and hence listed in reputable dictionaries and not just online places anyone can edit.

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