Film: MARY POPPINS
LINK TO THE SONG
Not a very original choice for my seventh position, I’ll admit. Mary Poppins has one of the best soundtracks in the entire Disney filmography, so it’s already a minor miracle that only one of her songs got into the list. Supercali is the most famous of them, and also the most interesting – essentially, it is a song about speech, or about enunciation. The first lyric encapsulates practically all of the song – ‘Because I was afraid to speak when I was just a lad, me father gave me [some gross shit I can’t identify] and told me I was bad. But then one day I learnt the word that saved me, don’t you knows, the biggest word you’ve ever heard and this is how it goes.’ The word Supercali itself is meaningless – what matters is that the kid has ‘learnt how to speak,’ so to speak.
Society remunerates good (or Super!) speech, and the song recognises the status of speech as a form of power – one of the men earns distinction as ‘a clever gent’ by saying Supercali, another ‘conquers’ his wife by it. In a remarkably subtle twist, it also warns us of the dangers inherent in power by admonishing to use it with care, ‘or it could change your life.’
In this parable on speech as power and the powers of speech, the word Supercalifragilistiexpiralidocious is itself fascinating. Its length makes it symbolic for speech itself – it is supposed to include all letters and words, it encompasses everything that can be said (and more, if we believe the only meaningful syllables in it – the ‘Super’ at the beginning). Simultaneously, though, it means nothing and therefore says nothing! Thus the circularity of speech is represented by a word which includes all discourses while standing for the meaning of none. ‘Super’ (Latin for ‘above’) stands for transcendence, suggesting that meaning is a performance which transcends its own flat words, but if the word is only meaningful when it transcends itself, then it is never meaningful, because the moment that it transcends itself, it is no longer itself!
The word’s flexible meaning(ful/less)ness is the condition for the song that sings it, or even the blog by which we discuss it – meaning that it is thanks to the possibilities opened by Supercalifragilistiexpiralidocious that we can speak of Supercalifragilistiexpiralidocious, even though we can never actually speak of Supercalifragilistiexpiralidocious because our article is not saying Supercalifragilistiexpiralidocious. The delightfully composed musical refrain lends even greater sleight of hand to a song of remarkable power (and one fucking convoluted explanation, I know).