Softy Calais goes ballistic…

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Calais in north-western France, and Kent in south-eastern England, have been experiencing weeks of extraordinary chaos. Thousands of desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East are fighting to get into the Eurotunnel depot where they think they might be able to stow away on trucks that will make the train journey through the tunnel to the immensely desirable destination of Great Britain. The British think the Calais local authorities and the French government have been making only desultory efforts to prevent the migrants from clogging the approach roads, breaching the security fences, delaying train departures, and causing side effects like 24-hour traffic jams on the M20 freeway in Kent. So the headline writers at The Sun went to work, with feghoot based on a song from Mary Poppins:

Softy Calais goes ballistic… Frenchies are atrocious!

One would have to spare a grudging moment of appreciation for this tortured effort at eye-catching summary [if it were not a case of multiple self-plagiarism by The Sun — see footnote at the end].

But incidentally (for this is Language Log, not Asylum-Seeker Log), I have always been irritated by the famous song "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." What's wrong is that it's an impossible word. The morphemic structure is fairly obvious:


The main thing that makes this an impossible word is that the suffix -ic can never be followed in any word by the prefix ex-. Absolutely no word has -icex- in it. But even the spelling tells you that: no word has c pronounced [k] when followed by e (correct me in the comments below if you can find a counterexample).

Of course, supercalifragilistic is a possible word (an adjective; one related abstract noun would be supercalifragilisticity), and expialidocious is a possible word (also an adjective; one related abstract noun would be expialidocity and another would be expialidociousness). It's gluing the two together that loses the possible-word status.

It would be easy to make up morphologically possible but nonexistent English words of this length, but *supercalifragilisticexpialidocious isn't one of them.

[Update: Two or three commenters pointed out that The Sun was plagiarizing itself, drawing on an earlier headline about a soccer match between Caledonian (winners) and Celtic (humiliated losers). The latter team's name is usually pronounced "seltik", so that wouldn't be a counterexample to my claim about c; but the language family name Celtic is pronounced with initial [k], so that is a counterexample; and sceptical in its British spelling (American skeptical) is another. And as several people have pointed out, "soccer" is a counterexample if you don't draw a distinction between c and double c.]


  1. Bob Ladd said,

    August 2, 2015 @ 4:56 am

    It may help North American readers to be reminded that Calais (like all two-syllable French words used in English, such as chateau and mirage) is stressed on the FIRST syllable in British English. The play on supercalli-etc works a lot better if you know that.

  2. Maurice Buxton said,

    August 2, 2015 @ 5:09 am

    Also something of a variation of a classic (Scottish) Sun headline: "Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious", which itself "has form" among sports reporters:

    When I saw the headline my first thought was "bet the headline writer has been waiting years for a chance to do their own version of that". Of course, since the subject matter was political it included a good dollop of xenophobia, because the Sun,

    And if enough people use "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" as a word, I'm sure it'll redefine what's morphologically possible in English. Go forth and use it today! :)

  3. kurwamac said,

    August 2, 2015 @ 5:17 am

    'no word has c followed by e but pronounced [k]'

    I remain sceptical.

  4. flow said,

    August 2, 2015 @ 5:21 am

    "no word has c followed by e but pronounced [k]"—how about

    * 'sceptic' ( and

    * 'Celt' (

    Incidentally there's also 'margarine' ( which has a 'soft g' instead of the 'hard g' that the #ga'-spelling would seem to imply.

  5. Tim said,

    August 2, 2015 @ 5:22 am

    There is/was a haulage company run by a Mr Davies, I think based in Southampton, who had across the back doors of all their trucks: SUPERCALIBREFRIGOLOGISTICSEXPORTIMPORTDAVIES.

  6. peter metcalfe said,

    August 2, 2015 @ 5:32 am

    Your grudging admiration for the headline would be diminished if you knew the Sun was rehashing their famous headline "Super Caley Go Ballistic; Celtic Are Atrocious"

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