Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Cromulent and Esculent: Wordy Wednesday

Words that sound good or funny often catch my attention. Two words I like for this reason are cromulent and esculent. Runners up include corpulent, malevolent, indolent, redolent, virulent, violent, continent, prurient, and heaven-sent, but I won't say any more about them. Just that it's Wordy Wednesday and time for some fun with words. Here goes:

My Oxford English Dictionary.
Esculent means edible or suitable for food. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the first use known to them: a quote from Bacon in 1626 -- "A number of herbs are not esculent at all." In my recent reading, I noticed esculent in several quotes in the book Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen. (Link to my review of the book.) Here is the word in use by one of the men that served in a militia with Lincoln in 1832:
"The meat we could boil -- when we could get a pot -- broil, roast, or fry ... The bread we could bake or fry, the latter mode was generally practiced, for it was the less trouble and the less time of the two modes; the former mode we usually practiced by wrapping the stiff, shortened dough in a spiral manner around our ramrods... where it would bake into a most esculent bread." (p. 78)
Gardening manuals and catalogues from the early 19th century were also quoted in the book; these used esculent to distinguish edible growing vegetables from flowers that were decorative rather than edible. I believe that the word is used less frequently now than it was in the 19th century.

Cromulent is a totally new word for our time, quite often used in pop sources. It was invented for a 1996 episode of "The Simpsons" -- as you no doubt know if you are a fan. It's now pretty widely used as a kind of random positive adjective, so it could be defined as meaning "just fine." Or something like that. It's also defined as "Appearing legitimate but actually being spurious." (Dictionary of American Slang).

The Merriam-Webster dictionary, which doesn't actually include it as a "word," discusses cromulent at some length, including this summary of the first instance of the word:
"The schoolchildren of Springfield are watching a film about the founding father of Springfield, Jebediah Springfield. The film ends with Jebediah intoning, 'A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.' One teacher at the back of the room leans over to another and says that she’d never heard the word embiggen before she moved to Springfield. 'I don't know why,' the other teacher replies. 'It's a perfectly cromulent word.'"
The writers of The Simpsons had evidently been challenged to invent two plausible but not-real words, and came up with both "embiggen" and "cromulent." (Though there are a few earlier, more obscure citations for "embiggen.") Both are now rather widely used! Merriam-Webster concludes:
"While we don’t yet enter cromulent into our dictionaries, it’s a perfectly cromulent candidate for future entry."

3 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Those are both new to me. I never watched The Simpsons. I'm going to have to try cromulent on my son to see what kind of reaction I get.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Really enjoy your Wordy Wednesdays! Esculent is a neat word, although one you don't often see. Cromulent is new to me -- obviously I don't get out much. :-)

Jeanie said...

I haven't seen the Simpsons in awhile and didn't know that one. But Esculent is splendid!