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The Linguistics of "Wumbology"

Famously coined by Patrick Star (and, by extension, teleplay authors Jay Lender, Sam Henderson, and Merriwether Williams) in S03E05a of Spongebob SquarePants, the term "wumbo" has since become a fixture of the pop culture lexicon and fuel for countless internet memes. It is implicitly defined through its usage as being an adjective (as the opposite of "mini"), but subsequent explanation in the episode assigns it the qualities of a verb ("I wumbo. You wumbo. He/she/me wumbo."), and culminating in the academic discipline of "wumbology" (the study of wumbo, which is supposedly introduced in first grade curricula) thus indicating a noun form in order for it to be studied. Though obviously conceived as a simple joke — aimed at highlighting Patrick’s well-documented stupidity — there is a lot to unpack with regards to this seemingly nonsensical neologism.

Conduct a linguistic analysis of "wumbo" and its variant forms, using only the self-contained snippets of dialogue within the episode as a guide. Does it defy our preconceived understandings of linguistic morphology, or can a series of grammatical rules be devised to account for its inherently contradictory nature? If society were committed to accepting the term’s validity, what would be the parameters of usage under which it would enter our active vocabulary?

[Note: For the best quality article, it is highly recommended that this topic be taken up by someone with a background in, or at least a sufficiently deep knowledge of, linguistics.]

  • SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL FOR YOUR PERUSAL: The original clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lMu8V5Xa90); Urban Dictionary entries for Wumbo (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wumbo) and Wumbology (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Wumbology); Uncyclopedia page for Wumbo (http://mirror.uncyc.org/wiki/Wumbo); an entire fandom-powered Wiki devoted to Wumbology (http://wumbology.wikia.com/wiki/Wumbology_Wiki); Know Your Meme page on Wumbo (http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/wumbo); Debate.org thread to determine whether or not “Wumbology is a valid science” (http://www.debate.org/debates/Wumbology-is-valid-science/1/); Quora question thread in which user asks “Where can I study Wumbology?” (https://www.quora.com/Where-can-I-study-Wumbology); fan-made website for the University of Wumbology (http://theuniversityofwumbology.weebly.com/). – ProtoCanon 2 weeks ago
  • While these noncanonical testaments to fans’ devotion to a gag make for fun reading (especially when you have a deadline for a thesis chapter rapidly approaching), I encourage the prospective author to take them with a grain of salt and refrain from deviating from the diegetically provided grammatical criteria as outlined by Patrick. For example, many of these extratextual statements define wumbology as “the study of ALL THINGS wumbo,” which is grammatically contrary to Patrick’s “the study of wumbo.” It may seem negligible, but the addition of “all things” negates the necessity of a noun form, since it instead retains an adjectival connotation as a means of describing certain “things” without the implication of wumbo as an observable autonomous entity which may be studied (i.e. a noun). For this analysis to assert any authority, it must resign itself to the rules established by the term’s progenitor. Furthermore, the Uncyclopedia page makes up a lot of material without any basis in the episode for the sake of humour. This should not be trusted as an authoritative source of information, since it allows its satire on the form of web-based encyclopedic resources take precedence over its utility as one such resource. This leads me to my final point: avoid compromising the integrity of this inquiry for the sake of satire. Obviously the question itself is absurd -- since wumbo is a silly word by its very design, coined by a fictional anthropomorphic starfish in a children’s cartoon -- but that absurdity does not necessitate a default invalidation of the central premise. For those interested in linguistics, this may prove to be a genuine case study for testing the fallibility and limitations of the rules which govern human communication. And, even for those who simply see this as a joke, there are few things funnier than treating something fundamentally frivolous with the most earnest sincerity and analytical vigour. – ProtoCanon 2 weeks ago