"We've now reached the point where Hollywood is writing our dialogue."
December 14, 2000 1:03 PM   Subscribe

p.s. this site belongs to Steve Gerber, creator of "Howard the Duck."
posted by grumblebee at 1:03 PM on December 14, 2000

I was a bit disappointed as I was hoping they would indicate the origins of most of the listed phrases. I see some citations for the ones near the end, but I wanna know when "Cut to the chase" first entered the lexicon.
posted by gluechunk at 1:16 PM on December 14, 2000

posted by ethmar at 1:26 PM on December 14, 2000

The guy maintaining that page has a lot to answer for...
posted by baylink at 1:26 PM on December 14, 2000

Oh yeah... catchphrases... big evil.
posted by Niccola Six at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2000

How many of those actually originated from movies/TV/etc., vs. ordinary catchphrases that have simply been showing up everywhere because they've been picked up by various media?

Like, did "We're all on the same page then?" really come from a movie, or is it an ordinary bit of biz-speak that's spread into the populace at large from being parroted in magazines and TV?
posted by wiremommy at 2:20 PM on December 14, 2000

Duh. Memes spread.

They've been doing it since they started infecting our brains.

Not a big surprise.

There have been aphorisms and idioms since the dawn of human speech.

Now that some of them are being transmitted and spread via popular media, this is news? Bah.
posted by beth at 3:27 PM on December 14, 2000

Am I the only one who found that page just about unreadable?
posted by kindall at 3:51 PM on December 14, 2000

First Howard the Duck, now tiled sheepy backgrounds. Gerber is evil.
posted by Dreama at 4:12 PM on December 14, 2000

Personally I prefer to create catchphrases. Terms like "angry-go-lucky" and "Shut up and frolick" originate from the strange creative compound I share with my roommate.
posted by ed at 4:47 PM on December 14, 2000

There's a few that became real memes due to the movies, like "I've got a really bad feeling about this" -- Star Wars, of course -- which are ostensibly realistic things that may have been said by others before, just not as often.

Then there are the movie-inspired phrases that had no other purpose or sense and area always, at some level, merely a pop culture reference. "We're gonna need a bigger boat ..." or "You know what they call a quarter pounder in France?"

ed, I like those.
posted by dhartung at 8:18 PM on December 14, 2000

Thanks, dhartung.

One question though: what about the truly oddball quotes that infiltrate film freak coteries? Do these count for triteness? If so, I plead guilty as charged to using such lines as "Fix that window shade" (Night of the Hunter), "My mother? Let me tell you about my mother" (Blade Runner) and "I'm trying to write" (The Shining, uttered to people who pester me while working) every now and then in my everyday vernacular. Inevitably, these strange comments involve a systematic vivisection on why they work so well. And they produce new concepts (i.e., further catchphrases).

I don't think that imitating a line is bad per se. It harkens back to the early cavemen painting on the wall. One thing Gerber fails to account for in this piece is the original dialogue we overhear from others. It is, at a cursory glance, a compliment to the source. But perhaps it represents an intelligent attempt to understand a person or, more broadly, a given subculture. Does this mean that the words said by other human beings reproduced in exactly the same intonation that they were originally uttered are trite? Does this mean that links pilfered from other blogs are inherently meaningless?

Not at all. At least from my vantage point.
posted by ed at 12:22 AM on December 15, 2000

My question is whether or not this really is a NEW trend. As Beth puts it, "Duh. Memes spread." ("Duh" belongs on Gerber's page, doesn't it?)

Gerber isn't a historian. Does he really know what he's talking about? Were people in the 19th Century spouting Dickensian catch phrases? Problem is, we don't have records of everyday speech.

If Gerber is correct, why? Is it simply the pervasiveness of media?

I do like Gerber's comment about the phrases being "not mere threadbare phrases like 'between a rock and a hard place,' 'happy camper,' 'fire in the belly,' 'cool links,' and innumerable other inanities that have eaten into the language. These examples are complete in themselves as responses within the context of a conversation. Strung together with just a few transitional phrases, they could comprise a conversation."

Reminds me of this quote from Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" (1946)
As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.
posted by grumblebee at 4:24 AM on December 15, 2000

I think that in modern times with mass media and so much of everything being archived with near-perfect fidelity, it's just easier to trace the reference (and view it or listen to it repeatedly), and it's happening faster (with a hit movie, millions of people can be exposed to a given catchy quote-meme within weeks).

This has been going on throughout human history, only it hasn't been easy to trace the origin of various phrases until recently.
posted by beth at 8:44 AM on December 15, 2000

grumblebee: LOL. I'd like to think that Victorians were chanting the quips of Quilp as enthusiastically as they were waiting in the harbors for the next installment of Dickens.

We do have records of earlier speech. There are deposition transcripts and court testimony archived around the world. In fact, James M. Cain caught hell for seemingly reproducing his hard-boiled dialogue style in his Civil War novel, Past All Dishonor. Cain didn't see what all the fuss was about, given that he had spent days scouring various universities to get the verisimilitude right.

If someone were to systematically go through all of these records to discover how much of it was reproduced from cultural influence, then they'd have, at worst, an underread thesis or, at best, a New York Times bestseller on their hands.
posted by ed at 11:12 AM on December 15, 2000

Fascinating, ed! I'll have to check the library and web for some of those transcripts.
posted by grumblebee at 4:19 PM on December 15, 2000

One observation: people almost always write more formally than they speak -- and this applies, also, to times when they speak, but know that their words will be written down.
posted by baylink at 5:09 PM on December 15, 2000

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