10 Oct

What makes a catchphrase?

The dictionary definition is:  1) a phrase that attracts or is meant to attract attention. 2) a phrase, as a slogan, that comes to be widely and repeatedly used, often with little of the original meaning remaining.

I came across a list of “TV’s 60 Greatest Catchphrases” and looking at them out of context, how on earth did they become so engrained in our popular culture? I think the answer is the “context.” We attach significance to programs we watch that we enjoy, usually more than one time.

When we write, we try to make every word count, but I’m sure our readers like some passages/scenes more than others. It’s what makes writing challenging. Reaching out to readers and making their experience enjoyable. I hope they would read my books more than once.

Below are a few of my personal favorites. Click on the link above for all of those on the list.

1. “Heeeere’s…Johnny!” Ed McMahon hailed the arrival of Johnny Carson from behind the Tonight Show curtain for 30 years and it never got old. Just ask Jack Nicholson.

2. “Yada, yada, yada.” The ultimate show about nothing gave us more than its fair share of catchphrases, but this Seinfeld signature uttered by Elaine to gloss over a bad date and favored by George’s felonious girlfriend is still really something.

3. “And that’s the way it is.” Long before the advent of cable news, revered newsman Walter Cronkite closed his nightly broadcast with these iconic words. And we understood we’d just seen and heard everything we needed to know.

4. “It’s gonna be legen — wait for it — dary.” He’s a one-man one-liner machine, but our favorite Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) quote on How I Met Your Mother brilliantly captures his bro-vado.

Other favorites of mine (by older decades)

“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” — Adventures of Superman
“The thrill of victory and the agony of ¬defeat.” — Jim McKay, Wide World of Sports
“Ruh-roh!” — Astro, The Jetsons
“This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.” — Mission: Impossible
“Live long and prosper.” — Spock, Star Trek
“Who loves ya, baby?” — Kojak, Kojak
“Let’s be careful out there.” — Esterhaus, Hill Street Blues
“Make it so.” — Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation
“Resistance is futile.” — The Borg, Star Trek: The Next Generation

And then there’s is the movies…

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” — Rhett in Gone With The Wind

“I’ll be back.” — Terminator

And, so on.

Check out the list and see if your favorites are in the list and let us know which ones. Or, if there is a catchphrase you didn’t find but love, share it with us.


Posted by on October 10, 2013 in Popular Culture, readers, writers, writing


Tags: , ,

17 responses to “Catchphrases

  1. Judith Keim

    October 10, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    A fun blog, Janis! It was interesting to read through them and remember some of the programs and people behind them. I still like “Book ’em, Danno”. If we’re talking about reservations I might laugh and say “Book ’em, Danno”! I’ll have to think about certain phrases in my writing. Some are overused I know but it could add a dimension to a character. Thanks!

    • Janis McCurry

      October 10, 2013 at 10:03 AM

      It does help readers/audiences relate to a character if they have certain phrases they like. Ooh, ooh, from the A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

  2. stephanieberget

    October 10, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    These seem to become more powerful as time goes by. I’ll bet younger people recognize some of these and haven’t seen the shows.

    • Janis McCurry

      October 10, 2013 at 10:04 AM

      I agree, Steph, they may not have watched the show originally, but they know the catchphrase.

  3. marsharwest

    October 10, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    Interesting post, Janis. It’s funny how those phrases work to take you back–almost like music. I got a visceral reaction like you do with music or a scent. Dare I admit that I never watch Seinfield? But I knew the phrase and exactly what it meant.

  4. Janis McCurry

    October 10, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    I know. I’ve never watched How I Met Your Mother, but I love the Barney character (and NPH) and the phrase.

  5. Leona Pence

    October 10, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    My dad’s favorite phrase was “That’s all she wrote’, and we knew the item couldn’t be fixed.

    • marsharwest

      October 10, 2013 at 4:05 PM

      Hey, Leona. My father said the same thing! Haven’t thought of that in years! Thanks for the memory.

    • Janis McCurry

      October 11, 2013 at 7:10 AM

      Leona, I tried to look up the origin of this one. One said it might be from a Dear John letter to a GI in WWI. It started “Dear John.” When his buddies asked him what else was in the letter, he said “That’s all she wrote.”

      However, the citing went on to say, “A more likely derivation is a country music song titled ‘That’s All She Wrote’, recorded by Ernest Tubb and published in sheet music form in 1942:

      I got a letter from my mama, just a line or two
      She said listen daddy your good girl’s leavin’ you
      That’s all she wrote – didn’t write no more
      She’d left the gloom a hanging round my front door.”

      It’s so fun tracking down these things.

  6. Lynn Mapp

    October 10, 2013 at 7:48 PM

    “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” is one that comes to mind.

    • Janis McCurry

      October 11, 2013 at 7:06 AM

      Used a TON of times. Yep, that’s a good one.

  7. Peggy Staggs

    October 11, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    “Danger, Will Robinson!” Believe it or not “Lost in Space” is on late night TV again. I miss some of the old shows. I love the memories the old catchphrases bring back. Dinner on TV trays watching Huntley Brinkly then a western. Always a western.

  8. Janis McCurry

    October 11, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    “Mr. Dillon!” Chester never said Marshall, always “Mr.” He did, on occasion, say “Matthew.”

  9. Jennifer

    October 13, 2013 at 9:37 PM

    “Danger, Will Robinson!” I always say that to my kids when they’re doing something…well, dangerous.

  10. Janis McCurry

    October 14, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    That catchphrase sure has “legs” for as long ago as it was. Lost in Space debuted in 1975!!

  11. maryvine

    October 31, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    My dad used to say, “That’s the way she goes, you know.” How about Jackie Gleason , “One of these days… to the moon, Alice, to the moon.”

    • Janis McCurry

      October 31, 2013 at 3:29 PM

      Gleason’s line became a part of TV history!


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