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On Rick and Morty, Squanchy squanches some of his squanches with "squanch".

On South Park, we saw the Marklar marklar their marklar with "marklar".

Before those two shows, the Smurfs already smurfed some of their smurfs with "smurf".

But who was or were the first to replace some of their words with the same single word?


Clarification for those who speak neither Squanch nor Marklar nor Smurf: they all replace words or parts of words with a single word, respectively "squanch", "marklar", and "smurf". That word can be used as both a noun and a verb, even in the same sentence. It's a nonsensical word, its meaning solely to be derived from context.

The Smurfs were clearly a lot earlier than Rick and Morty and South Park. But were they the first to do this?

I'm interested in both earlier examples from fiction and real-life examples. I'm also curious to learn if Peyo took inspiration from an earlier example, if such exists.

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    Heinleins "Grok" comes close (explained by a quote on wikipedia as "Grok means "to understand," of course, but [...] it also means, "to drink" and "a hundred other English words, words which we think of as antithetical concepts) but then Stranger in a Strange Land was published in 1961so it does not quite beat "smurf". – Eike Pierstorff Nov 2 '16 at 11:24
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    Don't forget the Marklar. – Ian Thompson Nov 2 '16 at 13:38
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    @Spencer I think you misunderstand the question. It isn't about swapping out individual words, but wholesale replacing of many words and word-parts within the language with a single word.So not the smeerp thing. – Michael Richardson Nov 2 '16 at 15:18
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    @MichaelRichardson --- or rather: I think you misunderstand the marklar. It isn't about swapping out individual marklar, but wholesale replacing of many marklar and marklar within the marklar with a single marklar. So, not the marklar thing. – Ian Thompson Nov 2 '16 at 15:45
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    Wow. This question smurfs. – Omegacron Nov 4 '16 at 15:06
91

It is hard to say for certain, as the search terms to apply for "smurfing" aren't very clear. However: Although there's likely to be many stories for children where a character replaces a word with some nonsensical term, it appears that The Smurfs themselves are indeed the first to do it on a large scale, and as part of a species' main language.

I started with Wikipedia's article on The Smurfs, which has a short section about their language. It mentions how it is used, but does not tell us about other examples of Smurf speech in fiction. TV Tropes, on the other hand, does have examples of others, and names them as the ones that gave the article its name. It does not mention if they were the first to "smurf", but considers it "probable".

The Smurfs were first introduced in 1958, drawn by the Belgian comic artist Pierre Culliford (pen name "Peyo"). They were "smurfing" since the beginning. Their stories were first published in the Spirou magazine.

The Spirou comics had earlier introduced the Marsupilami in 1952, a creature that only speaks with a very simple word - "houba". Even so, it can't be called "smurfing", because the noises it makes is not used as a replacement for otherwise normal English words - it simply cannot speak English.

I tried to check the other examples on the TV Tropes list to see if any comic book or animated examples were older than this, but found none. However, one example from literature is extremely old:

"Gargantua and Pantagruel" by Rabelais (mid-1500, possibly the oldest example) has this quabble for the bells of Notre-Dame: Magister Janotus de Bragmardo note : "Ego sic argumentor: Omnis glocka glockabilis in glockenturmio glockando, glockans glockativo glockare facit glockabiliter glockantes. Parisius habet glockas. Ergo gluck.

Note: German Canis Latinicus version. "Ergo gluck" is a scholastic formula, meaning about Q.E.D.

Here the word/sound "glock" is used repeatedly to describe bells. I am sadly not able to tell if this text uses it as actual "smurfing", or if it is merely playing with alliteration. Still, if using the effect in a single poem is enough to qualify, then this certainly beats The Smurfs by over 450 years.

If there are any earlier works that contain "smurfing" , I have not been able to find them.

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    “Glocke” is German for “bell”. The use of “glock”/“gluck” almost certainly refers to this, since Rabelais would have know this. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 2 '16 at 15:02
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    "Glockenturm" is "bell tower" in German, so I am 99.999% sure that "glockenturmio" is not a genuine Latin word. Also, 'k' is extremely rare in Latin, and I don't think 'ck' exists at all. So, it's almost certainly nonsense. – Jörg W Mittag Nov 2 '16 at 16:31
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    "It is hard to say for certain, as the search terms to apply for 'smurfing' aren't very clear." The fact that some questions cannot be answered in five seconds with Google is exactly why scholarly research is still a thing! (Which is essentially what you do for the rest of your answer.) – David Richerby Nov 2 '16 at 18:26
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    Concurring with @JörgWMittag that none of the glock-based words here are Latin. Almost-certainly Rabelais’s own (nonsensical) invention, and thus fairly similar to smurfs. – KRyan Nov 2 '16 at 19:13
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    It’s certainly nonsense rather than real Latin, but I’m not sure it’s exactly smurfing either. As I understand it, it’s roughly like “All the bellable bells were belling in the belltower, belling bellishly from their bellishness…” They’re not exactly real words, but they have meanings based on bells in an approximately natural and logical way, they’re not being used to mean arbitrary things unrelated to bells. So it’s similar to smurfing, but doesn’t go quite as far. – PLL Nov 3 '16 at 1:04
44

Like the Smurfs I am Belgian, French-speaking native and also a comic fan since my childhood. I grew reading the smurfs, in their original version. I emphasis on this because it has an importance in this debate. The answer from Nox is very interesting, but not accurate enough when it comes to the Smurf language etymology and origin, probably because he is an English-native and not a French-native, and that you need to read french to find the real explanations about this. The answer from MSilvert completes it very well and establishes the truth, but not deeply enough in my opinion.


First of all, the original name of a Smurf, is a Schtroumpf.

This is not easily pronounceable in English so they choose Smurf instead for the english versions (there are many translations for many languages). To stick in line with the French word idea, they needed a word that just did not meant anything (at that time) and that sounded well when it came to replace existing nouns or verbs with the "Schtroumpf" word and it’s derivations . Smurf was a good candidate.

There’s no doubt about the fact that the author of the Smurfs, Pierre "Peyo" Culliford, did not invent the Smurf language from something he already knew. It is also very important to understand that the Smurf language was invented before the characters themselves, and this was just a pure random moment of joking between 2 good friends.

This happened during the golden era of Belgian comics, in 1958, the friends in question were Peyo and Franquin (Franquin is even more famous than Peyo, he created Spirou and many more comics). They were together at a dinner and Peyo wanted to ask the salt shalker to Franquin, but could not find the proper word to name it… Then you can rely on the translation of that moment from MSilvert, as it is perfectly correct (except that it should be Schtroumpf instead of Smurf of course)

I asked Franquin to give me something without remembering the name : "Give me... the smurf". I had use this word just like I would have used "Thing" He answered "Here is the smurf, when you are done smurfing, you'll smurf it back" We had fun smurfing for a few days. We spend time translating Racine or La Fontaine in smurf. Also the popular songs from back then. Which gave surprising and hilarious results

So basically in a few golden seconds, Peyo invented the word, and Franquin invented the language from it. That’s it. There’s no other answer.

As an example of what they did during the days after the dinner, here’s the first sentence of the tale “The crow and the fox” from Jean de La Fontaine (original and translation here)

Original:

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché, Tenait en son bec un fromage.

Turned into:

Maître Schtroumpf sur un arbre schtroumpfé tenait dans son schtroumpf un schtroumpf

This is only months after it happenned that Peyo created the Smurfs, and named them after the word he invented that day and made them talk the smurf language, because him and his friends did not really stopped to joke with this during all those months.

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    To render "Peyo wanted to ask the salt shalker to Franquin" in idiomatic English, you'd probably want something more like "Peyo wanted to ask Franquin for the salt shaker" (note the spelling shift as well as the more grammatical word-rearrangement). There's a number of minor stumbles in the English but that one probably interferes most with understanding the ideas in a very informative answer. – Glen_b Nov 2 '16 at 22:13
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    This is very informative about the history of the word "smurf" (or "schtroumpf") itself, but it seems to miss the point of the question, which asks about other instances of the same linguistic phenomenon. – David Z Nov 2 '16 at 23:42
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    "That’s it. There’s no other answer." Shame it's the answer to another question though xD – Kevin Nov 3 '16 at 15:04
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I don't know if the Smurf language was the first to use a lot of Smurfing, but it seems that that author Pierre "Peyo" Culliford didn't knew about any similar language.

Here is a link to the story of the creation of the Smurf langage by Peyo. The page comes from the official site of André Franquin (an other comic book writter) and is in french so here is a loose translation

"I asked Franquin to give me something without remembering the name : "Give me... the smurf". I had use this word just like I would have used "Thing" He answered "Here is the smurf, when you are done smurfing, you'll smurf it back" We hade fun smurfing for a few days. We spend time translating Racine or La Fontaine in smurf. Also the popular songs from back then. Which gave surprising and hillarious results"

9

This is not a real answer to the question, I know, but I think it fits quite well anyway

It is going to surprise many, but...a form of smurfing is currently used and spoken by [sane] human beings, like a real language. I mean, not as a joke or what, really as a part of everyday speaking!

So...location is Tuscany, on the north coast. This is from personal experience, and before someone from northern Italy made me notice it I never thought it was not "normal" (so to say), so I have no stats on how widespread this is.

Anyway: in Italian language there is a word, cosa, that means "thing". Everything is a thing. And...this word is used in the abovementioned area to do smurfing in a real common and natural way. Just one simple example, no need more: "When you have finished thinging that thing, could you please thing me the thing you are thinging with?"

You can say this from one room to another, and you'll get exactly the thing you had in mind :-D

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    Can you add these original Italian to the example? – SQB Nov 3 '16 at 20:18
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    This is fairly common in natural language. Usually it’s restricted to a particular grammatical category (truc for nouns in French, or desu for verbs in Japanese) but Hawaiian Pidgin has da kine, which can be used anywhere: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Da_kine – Jon Purdy Nov 4 '16 at 22:58
  • Similarly, Greenlandic (and presumably most other Eskimo languages) have the entirely abstract root pi-, which means absolutely nothing at all, but is used when you need a root onto which you can add the suffixes you require. It can be used both verbally and nominally, and it can mean absolutely anything context demands. You could basically smurf along quite smurfily smurfing just that one smurf in Smurf. And nosmurf would smurf any smurf what you’re smurfing. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 6 '16 at 16:12
4

What about Shmoos from Li'l Abner? For a real-life, noun-only example, a schmoo can be used to identify a variety of things loosely-known to the observer, usually something that brings happiness.

It was coined by cartoonist Al Capp in 1948 to describe an amorphous cartoon creature with ridiculously vague characteristics. Unfortunately the shmoos themselves do not talk, except to say Shmoo (I think) so they fall in that category; but any noun can be replaced with a shmoo when talking about them:

A shmoo is shaped like a plump bowling pin with stubby legs. It has smooth skin, eyebrows and sparse whiskers—but no arms, nose or ears. Its feet are short and round but dextrous, as the shmoo's comic book adventures make clear. It has a rich gamut of facial expressions and often expresses love by exuding hearts over its head. Cartoonist Al Capp ascribed to the shmoo the following curious characteristics. Its satirical intent should be evident:

  • They reproduce asexually and are incredibly prolific, multiplying exponentially faster than rabbits. They require no sustenance other than air.

  • Shmoos are delicious to eat, and are eager to be eaten. If a human looks at one hungrily, it will happily immolate itself — either by jumping into a frying pan, after which they taste like chicken, or into a broiling pan, after which they taste like steak. When roasted they taste like pork, and when baked they taste like catfish. (Raw, they taste like oysters on the half-shell.)

  • They also produce eggs (neatly packaged), milk (bottled, grade-A), and butter—no churning required. Their pelts make perfect bootleather or house timber, depending on how thick one slices it.
  • They have no bones, so there's absolutely no waste. Their eyes make the best suspender buttons, and their whiskers make perfect toothpicks. In short, they are simply the perfect ideal of a subsistence agricultural herd animal.
  • Naturally gentle, they require minimal care, and are ideal playmates for young children. The frolicking of shmoon is so entertaining (such as their staged "shmoosical comedies") that people no longer feel the need to watch television or go to the movies.
  • Some of the more tasty varieties of shmoo are more difficult to catch. Usually shmoo hunters, now a sport in some parts of the country, utilize a paper bag, flashlight and stick to capture their shmoos. At night the light stuns them, then they can be whacked in the head with the stick and put in the bag for frying up later on.

-- Wikipedia

Superficially, the Shmoo story concerns a cuddly creature that desires nothing more than to be a boon to mankind. Although initially Capp denied or avoided discussion of any satirical intentions (“If the Shmoo fits,” he proclaimed, “wear it!”), he was widely seen to be stalking bigger game subtextually. The story has social, ethical and philosophical implications ...

The mythic tale ends on a deliberately ironic note. Shmoos are officially declared a menace, and systematically hunted down and slaughtered—because they were deemed "bad for business." The much-copied storyline was a parable that was interpreted in many different ways at the outset of the Cold War...

"After it came out both the left and the right attacked the Shmoo," according to publisher Denis Kitchen. "Communists thought he was making fun of socialism and Marxism. The right wing thought he was making fun of capitalism and the American way. Capp caught flak from both sides.

So there's that, and...

However, "shmue" was a taboo Yiddish term for the uterus. It is one of many Yiddish slang variations that would find their way into Li'l Abner... Al Capp himself wrote that the Shmoo metaphorically represented the limitless bounty of the earth ... in essence, Mother Nature herself. In Li'l Abner's words, "Shmoos hain't make believe. The [whole] earth is one!! [a shmoo]"

The term "shmoo" has entered the English language, defining highly technical concepts in at least four separate fields of science (...)

Shmoo § In science

In economics, a "widget" is any material good which is produced through labor (extracted, refined, manufactured, or assembled) from a finite resource—in contrast to a "shmoo", which is a material good that reproduces itself and is captured or bred as an economic activity ... "If shmoos really existed, they would be a "free good." Erik Olin Wright uses the "parable of the shmoo" to introduce discussion of class structure and economics.

In microbiology, the shmoo's uncanny resemblance to budding yeast—combined with its near-limitless usefulness—has led to the character's adoption as a mascot ... the cellular bulge that is produced by a haploid yeast cell ... is referred to as a "shmoo," because cells that are undergoing mating ... resemble the cartoon character. The whole process [of mating] is known to biologists as "shmooing." Shmoos are essential; without them, we would have neither bread nor beer. The word "shmoo" has appeared in nearly 700 science publications since 1974; it is used in labs studying the bread- and beer-making species ...

Echinoderm biologists use "shmoo" (often spelled "schmoo") to refer to a very simple, highly derived, blob-shaped larva found in some sea urchins ... In the field of particle physics, "shmoo" refers to a high energy cosmic ray [detector at Los Alamos] ... Over one hundred white "shmoo" detectors were at one time sprinkled around the accelerator beamstop area and adjacent mesa ... "Shmoo plot" is a technical term relating to the shmoo-shaped graphical display patterns of test circuits. In electrical engineering, a "shmoo" is a depiction of the effect of varying two or more components.

So, possible real-life example (although Smurfing has also entered the English language).

2

It's actually a common childhood game to substitute one word for many others, and there are probably nursery rhymes that use it though I can't think of one right now.

Ernest Hemingway definitely used a similar word replacement trope. In For Whom the Bell Tolls he used the words "obscenity" and "expletive" to self-censor to comic effect. And for a more direct comparison, there is the nihilistic prayer at the end of "A Clean Well-Lighted Place":

Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name, thy kingdom nada, thy will be nada, in nada as it is in nada...

2

There is a Filipino word that has been around for hundreds of years that is used for this purpose.

The word is Kwan, and it can be used as a verb, noun, in place of a person's name; in fact, entire sentences can be said just using kwan (though they do not make sense, usually).

Kwan's literal translation to English is the thingy ma bob, the watch ya may call it, what's his name... it's the word you use when you don't remember the weird you want to use.

  • It is implicit that OP was asking who was the first in Science Fiction or Fantasy to do this. Interesting answer, though. – Politank-Z Sep 14 '17 at 16:47
  • @Politank--Z actually, I was interested in the origins of the idea. I'll edit the question to explicitly mention this. – SQB Sep 14 '17 at 17:01
  • Yeah, I realized that on rereading the question. I don't know philipino literature well enough to show you an example of it in fibrin – Garret Gang Sep 14 '17 at 19:15
  • Fiction, but when I find an example I will update this answer. – Garret Gang Sep 14 '17 at 19:15

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