Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Simpsons have me under their spell

I'm still here and I'm OK. You can call off the rescue St Bernard. Unless of course there really is brandy in the little keg. I could use some of that medicine.

Since I work with the television on, my study of Labov is blanketed with the occasional much more linguistically interesting jokes of The Simpsons.

Just a minute ago Krusty learned how to manipulate congressmen and win a vote on a bill. After using alcohol and a paper clip to sneakily attach his own bill to a flags for orphans bill he proclaimed with relief:

"The system works! I've become enchanted and illusioned with Washington."

Nice. Neither is a true back formation because the forms with dis- are in fact based on these earlier morphemes.

But to say that one is disenchanted and disillusioned no longer presupposes that any faith or positive regard was the result of not seeing the true nature of the system. At least its not a very strong presupposition.

So to be disenchanted and disillusioned is not only to know the truth about something, but to be displeased with it. But using the earlier forms in a statement meaning roughly "I feel good about X" goes back to the sense that feeling good about something can only be the result of unclear thinking and foolishness. When Krusty says he's enchanted and illusioned with Washington he's at once expressing faith in a system and acknowledging that his faith is the result of being a fool.

Labov's graphs pale in comparison to this.


  1. You think that's true? -- that being disillusioned and disenchanted means you know the truth about something? I suppose that is the way those words are used, but... no, nevermind. This argument isn't going to get anywhere.

    Just that old complaint about the thin line between highest faith and naivety.

    What I was about to say was that thinking that becoming disillusioned gives you a grasp on the truth seems sophomoric to me. I suppose it's all about perspective.

    To become disillusioned and disenchanted with the church, for example -- that seems to me either wise or sophomoric. I'm just not as certain as the writers of The Simpsons that disillusionment and disenchantment are the harbingers of wisdom. It's a harder question to me, as usual. Somewhere in the middle...

  2. You can now download five Simpsons episodes--free--at

    Which *almost* makes me want to retract the mean things I said about the "Hulu" name.

  3. I meant "stream," not "download."

  4. Although "disillusioned" is generally meant to mean "I have lost the illusions I held about X and now see the truth", that certainly doesn't imply that all the things with which one is not disillusioned are things with which one could become so - that is, things which are illusory.

    The word to mean seems to imply an excuse for a bad choice: yes, I thought this but I was under a spell, I was illusioned!

    So there's room to see a truth that isn't the result of having, or losing, illusions. But at the moment, "disillusioned" certainly means that.

    "Enchanted by" X, on the other hand, is less clear. There is, I think, an element of mystery in its use - a feeling of "I can't explain why I love X, I just do - it's X's doing, not mine".

  5. Urg... make that "the word (disillusioned) to ME seems to mean..."

  6. As P. G. Wodehouse wrote: "I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled."


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