You just got scrumped!

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On 30 Rock‘s “Christmas Special” episode this past Thursday, Tracy Morgan’s character (Tracy Jordan) says to Tina Fey’s character (Liz Lemon): “What’s the past tense for scam? Is it scrumped? Liz Lemon, I think you just got scrumped!” See it at the end of this clip here (or better yet, watch the whole episode):

The intended joke here is that scrump (or skrump; the alternative spelling is irrelevant) is a slang term for sex, with more precise popular definitions ranging from the relatively benign “to have convenient sex; usually brief and decidedly unromantic” to the more disturbing “[t]o physically violate”. (Some believe the word to be a blend of “screw” and “hump”; others assume a biblical link to the story of Adam & Eve, euphemistically speaking of stealing fruit/apples.) So, Tracy Jordan is informing Liz Lemon that she just got fucked.

Also of more-than-casual linguistic interest here is the long-standing debate in the linguistics literature concerning the representation of (certain types of) linguistic knowledge; as it happens, much of this literature focuses on the relation between English verbs and their past tenses. Steven Pinker developed a synthesis of both sides of this debate and popularized his proposal (in the popular science sense) in his 1999 book Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language. (This Wikipedia page provides for a brief summary, a link to a précis of the book based on a lecture by Pinker, and a critical review of the book by Charles Yang.)

Pinker has also relatively recently written a retrospective essay on the debate, “Whatever Happened to the Past Tense Debate?“, which appeared in a 2006 collection of essays (edited by me, Junko Ito, and John McCarthy) written in honor of Alan Prince on the occasion of his 60th birthday. The entire collection is available free from the University of California eScholarship Repository (if you prefer to pay for bound books, you can buy one here). We (the editors) chose to make the collection available in this way to recognize Prince’s early efforts, beginning in 1993, to circulate work in his specific area of interest (Optimality Theory) over the Internet. The Rutgers Optimality Archive recently saw its 1000th posting; here is an interview with Prince marking this occasion, in which he reflects on the history and impact of the Archive over the past 15 years.



22 Comments

  1. Nicholas Waller said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 5:50 am

    I am British and have only ever heard of “scrumping” in terms of nicking apples from orchards, usually done by children. In fact, I’m in Somerset, where scrumpy is the name for the local cloudy and alcoholic cider fermented from whole apples and containing, apparently, no added water, sugar or corn syrup (unlike the clear fizzy stuff, made from apple juice).

    Scrumpy “is derived from the obsolete dialect word scrimp, meaning a withered apple. From this we also get the verb scrump, long used to mean stealing somebody else’s apples, but originally referring to the custom of collecting windfalls.”

    Traditionally, I was told when working in a Somerset pub as a teenager, the lino-floored public bar sold local cider cheaper than the carpeted lounge bar, on account of the strong scrumpy causing grockles (tourists) to be physically sick, and lino is easier to clean. (Although I doubt this was true).

    Surely “you’ve been scammed” is a common enough past use of “scam”.

  2. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    It’s possible that I lead a sheltered life, or am becoming unacquainted with current slang (I’m 34), but I can’t recall ever encountering “scrump”. I’m North American.

  3. Debbie said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 11:18 am

    I haven’t heard it either, and I’m 41 in the U.S.

    Is it in any way related to “scrapple”?

  4. Eric Bakovic said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 11:46 am

    Nicholas: thanks for the British perspective. A little more digging (in the OED, where I should have searched in the first place) reveals a “dial.” (that is, “dialect”) noun form of scrump meaning “Anything withered or dried up; spec., a withered or stunted apple”, and a “dial. or slang” verb form meaning “To steal (apples), esp. from orchards.” I can see how this could have been metaphorically extended from the Adam & Eve story to refer to sex. (And yes, “scammed” is common enough, but that wouldn’t be funny now, would it? Moreover, this interaction is consistent with the Tracy Jordan character.)

  5. Eric Bakovic said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

    Skullturf and Debbie: I think the three of us are on the older side for this particular slang term. I had to look it up myself.

  6. Virgil Ikari said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

    I think the joke in the show might just be that Tracy Jordan is stupid, and doesn’t know how to properly conjugate.

  7. John said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

    Well, I’m 25 and hadn’t heard that definition of “scrump” before now. When I saw the episode I figured the joke was the Tracy Jordan character’s general lack of coherence.

  8. Lonely Joe said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 6:26 pm

    Seems everyone is scrumping except us, huh? Nevermind, I’m just going to knock over a pitcher of scrumpy instead…

  9. Joe Burke said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 7:12 pm

    I’m 22 and I had no idea that “scrump” meant anything, but less “to have convenient sex.”

  10. Nicholas Waller said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 7:00 am

    Incidentally, if “scrumping” does turn out to have any sexual connotation in the UK – which, who knows (I don’t), it may do among much younger denizens – it’s as likely to be connected with rumpy-pumpy as humping.

  11. mtarnowski said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 11:01 am

    This whole discussion reminds me of what may be the English major’s favorite joke: A tourist hops into a Boston cab and asks the driver: “Would you know where I might get scrod?” The cabbie, an English major, says: “Ha! The pluperfect subjunctive!”

  12. Meesher said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    I’m 22, American, and never heard of this word. I would guess that it is highly regional or restricted to a particular subculture. I don’t think there’s evidence that Tracy Jordan or the writers were slyly using it as anything more than a nonsense past participle.

  13. Paul Wilkins said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

    I just hope Tina Fey finds this post. This is exactly why she plants these little gems.

    I am positive that the line in question was planted as a headscratcher. That someone has taken the time to noodle it out is exactly what what the writers were after. While Tracy Jordan’s character is very much larger than life in his ignorance, there are times in every episode where he drops a line that is intended to make you wonder if there is more there than the abject buffoonery.

    This is part of Tina Fey’s style. It’s the reason she wins awards for a show no one (except me and, apparently, Eric, watch). And why we watch.

  14. John Cowan said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 6:51 pm

    mtarnowski: I hope you know that the Boston City Council has declared that the Official Joke of the City of Boston, and ordered that it be told on all official and public occasions.

  15. Eric Bakovic said,

    December 17, 2008 @ 2:17 am

    Meesher — I don’t have hard evidence, but I’m certain you’re wrong. You may be 22, but the writers on 30 Rock are hipper and more plugged in than all of us put together.

    Paul Wilkins — the current cover story of Vanity Fair, on Tina Fey (by Maureen Dowd, with photographs by Annie Leibovitz), notes that the popularity of 30 Rock has shot up since Fey’s amazing Sarah Palin imitation on SNL. Let’s hope it keeps up.

  16. Liz C said,

    December 18, 2008 @ 3:58 am

    “Scrump” was in common use when I was in high school in Colorado, ’84-’88. However, when I went to college in Northern California, it wasn’t known by lots of folks, so I think it may be a regional term. I also remember having an extensive conversation with friends in H.S. about the exact definition of “scrump.”

    @Nicholas Waller– I remember seeing “scrumpy” cider when I was in the UK in college, and since I knew that word by the sexual definition, I thought the cider was hilarious.

  17. mtarnowski said,

    December 19, 2008 @ 4:49 pm

    @John cowan: Oh, dear! I knew that was an old joke, but I didn’t know it had been institutionalized! Thanks for bringing me up to date!

  18. vlad said,

    December 23, 2008 @ 5:03 am

    1. I too doubt whether or not the script intended “scrumped” to be a sexual innuendo.

    2. If scrumping means nabbing apples, is a pie crafted from said apples a particularly scrumptious one?

    3. his name is Tracy Morgan, not Jordan.

  19. Eric Baković said,

    December 23, 2008 @ 11:07 am

    vlad — re-read the post, or watch the show: Tracy Morgan is the actor’s name, and Tracy Jordan is his character’s name on 30 Rock.

  20. vlad said,

    December 23, 2008 @ 9:31 pm

    Eric,

    I’m aware. Yet several posters have referred to him as “Tracy Jordan’s character” when in fact Tracy Jordan IS the character, played by Tracy Morgan.

  21. Eric Baković said,

    December 24, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

    vlad — I count only one comment with the string “Tracy Jordan’s character”, and I think the usage in that case is ambiguous enough (it could mean something like “the personality of the Tracy Jordan character”) to give the poster the benefit of the doubt. (There are also two comments with “the Tracy Jordan character”, which I think you’ll agree is perfectly fine.)

  22. Ty said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:58 pm

    I am 28- and my husband uses “scrump” ALL the time.

    He claims he made up the word in 3rd grade so he would get in trouble for saying screw or f***.

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