Tag Archives: language


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


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hashtagI am not against change. I try to keep up with our language and how it evolves. One of the beauties of language is how it is ever-changing.

However, some trends are run into the ground and just plain annoying, IMO. The ubiquitous use of the “hashtag” has gotten out of control.  I hear it on TV, see it in print newspapers, on Twitter, movies, radio, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, etc. The list goes on.

Hashtags date back as early as 2007, but they have exploded as a means of communicating in the last couple of years. According to Wikipedia, it is a form of metadata. “This kind of metadata helps describe an item and allows it to be found again by browsing or searching. Tags are generally chosen informally and personally by the item’s creator or by its viewer, depending on the system.”

And herein, lies what I object to in using hashtags. The informal creation of ridiculously-named hashtags to voice opinions. #idontlikehashtagssodontusethembecausetheyarestupid would be a hashtag I create. Not elegant enough for me, I guess.

I googled “hashtag abuse” and came up with a lot of links! One article, in particular, states, “When anyone uses a hashtag (simply a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic and to begin a conversation) on a website, text message, or anything that does not pertain to Twitter. This is quite annoying considering hashtagging only works on Twitter.”

Here’s an article from Chris Messina, an engineer generally considered the creator of hashtags, talking about abusers.

And here’s where 7 Hashtag Abusers are listed. I love the verbal hashtagger because I’ve heard so many celebrities do this.

Let me have it with both barrels. Do you use hashtags? Do you like them as a useful search tool?


Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Idaho, twitter


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Melting Pot

Happy 4th of July! Before we popularized the “4th,” the holiday was always referred to as Independence Day. I wonder how many young people know this? Language changes, cultural references are born, change, die.

The United States is a melting pot and with different people comes different languages, meanings, and customs. But we need look no further than each other for regional differences in the way we speak the same language of English.

Do you say pronounce “aunt” like ant or awnt? Do you say route with a sound like out or a sound like boot?

Here are some short quizzes to determine your American accent. The first two links test your accent by sound alone. I put in two for comparison. The third is more what words you use. Example: Do you call the level in a house below ground a cellar or a basement?

Test 1

Test 2

Test 3

When you create your characters, take into account everything about them, including their regional accent or dialect.

What accent from our great melting pot do you use?


Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Etymology, Tests


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Two Shades of Gray

This week, my imagination takes me to…no, not that! I’m addressing American vs. English spellings and pronunciations.  The writer of the blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey is English and therefore, grey is spelled with an “e” rather than the American version, which is spelled with an “a.” Both spellings are in an American dictionary so it’s not like you’ll be called out about it. I thought about this because my sister e-mailed asking which was the correct spelling.

This blog is not about a right or wrong way. It’s a compilation of words that point out how the same language, English, used by different countries, is not exactly the same. In all examples, the American usage comes first.

-or and –our: honor/honour and favorite/favourite. We dropped the “u” in most cases.

-er and -re: caliber/calibre and theater/theatre. Interesting to note that most of these examples came from French, Latin, and Greek word endings. And yes, we do have people in the United States who are in “theatre.” Whether it’s affectation or not is another blog. 🙂

Also interesting is that the English did change some of the -re endings in months like November and December and words like chapter and tender. Why? I haven’t a clue. Does anyone out there know why?

But, American English also kept some traditional spellings in the words acre, massacre, mediocre to show that the “c” is pronounced /k/ rather than /s/.

-ice and -ise: advice/advise and device/devise. In America, we use the spelling of “advise” and “devise” when used as a verb. Advice is a word I often see misspelled when I’m proofing papers and mss.

Another exception is that the English, while using defence and offence, change the “c” to “s” in the words defensive and offensive. Hmm.

-ize and –ise: organize/organise and realize/realise although I read that the English now use both spellings.

Hope you enjoyed this short piece about the wonderful variants of the language we share with our friends across the pond.


Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Etymology, writing


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Word of the Year

According to the Oxford American Dictionaries, GIF (graphic interchange format) is the Word of the Year for 2012. Pronounced JIF (I have no idea why) the definition is “a compressed file format for images that can be used to create simple, jerky, looping animations.” See the complete article for some GIF examples. Very cute. I see them online all the time now.

Originating in the 80’s, the word has experienced a rebirth through use on the Internet. Its rising popularity earned the Word of the Year title from a team of lexicographers and consultants to the dictionary team, along with editorial, marketing, and publicity staff on the Oxford University Press. It doesn’t mean it will automatically be put in any dictionary.

Another phrase I’m seeing everywhere is Internet Meme. The term “Internet meme” refers to a concept that spreads rapidly from person to person via the Internet, largely through Internet-based email, blogs, forums, Imageboards, social networking sites, instant messaging and video streaming sites such as YouTube (from Wikipedia).


In short, enough people like an image, video, or phrase that they send it to others via the Internet or social media. I found a site that lists the “100 Greatest” memes. Better learn what a photobomb is as well. That’s when an object is inserted into another photo, making it “funny” to enough people that they pass it on. Here is Crasher Squirrel.

And there I go, propagating the meme!

So, there’s my update on the further evolution {or disintegration :-)} of the English language. At the least, it’s a fascinating insight in how technology and the Internet impact us on a daily basis.


Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Popular Culture


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Death of a Language

Another language is dead.

Two weeks ago, the last man who fluently spoke the Cromarty dialect died at age 92 in a small town on the tip of Scotland’s Black Isle.

==The Cromarty dialect included a helping of archaic “thees” and “thous” as well as a wealth of seafaring vocabulary, including three sets of words for “second fishing line.”

The aspirate “h” was often added or subtracted, so that “house” would be pronounced “oos” and “apple” would be pronounced “haypel.” The “wh” sound was often dropped entirely.” ==

Full article here.

A few phrases taken from a related link:

Foamin for want / Desperate for tea:  At’s theer trouble? / What’s your trouble?:  Theer nae tae big fi a sclaffert yet! / You’re not too big for a slap!:  Ah wudna ken artil start. / I wouldn’t know where to start.

I think it’s a beautiful dialect. It’s called a death by linguists because although they have it recorded, Cromarty is no longer spoken as a native dialect.

In his book, When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge, K. David Harrison says,

“By the year 2100, many linguists estimate, half of the world’s 6,912 distinct languages will be extinct. At present, 548 of them retain fewer than ninety-nine speakers (this book was written in 2008). We can expect to lose a language every ten days; and behind each of these disappearances lies a story of cultural loss, sadness and isolation.”

I’ve addressed the question of language evolution on more than one occasion, but this article presented a new thought to me. While language has always changed in the natural course of history, linguists feel it is also becoming more standardized because of “urbanization, compulsory education, and mass media.”

I’m not here to debate pros and cons or the difference between language and dialect.

I’m sad.

I just wanted to raise a glass to Bobby Hogg and Cromarty.


Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Etymology, Idaho


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Beam Me Up, Scotty

Popular culture fans reverently quote favorite lines from the movies, and in some cases, television. A year ago, I blogged about this in Make it Count. These cherished lines are remembered and become a part of the viewers’ lexicon.

A recent online article pointed out how many popular lines are misquoted and still end up being a part of popular vocabulary. The beauty (and sometimes heartburn for quasi-purists like me) of language is its fluidity and adaptability by the people who use it. Viewers take ownership of lines that resonate with them for whatever reason. They change the line to suit the circumstance and the misquote becomes popular.

“Beam me up, Scotty.” – Star Trek: “Beam me up, Scotty,” is the granddaddy of misquoted movie/television lines. Captain Kirk says “Beam me aboard,” “Beam us home,” and even “Scotty, beam me up,” but never the catchphrase that the whole world associates with Star Trek.

“Just the facts, ma’am.” – Dragnet: Can you believe that Joe Friday never actually said his own catchphrase? The line actually comes from a spoof of the show done by Stan Freberg. On the show, Joe Friday did say versions of the line like, ” All we know are the facts, ma’am,” but never, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

“Play it again, Sam.” – Casablanca: No one actually said, “Play it again, Sam,” during Casablanca, though it has since become the title of another movie. During the original movie, Ilsa says, at one point, “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.” Usually, though, the quote is attributed to Humphrey Bogart’s character, who says later in the film, “You played it for her, you can play it for me.” When Sam tries to refuse, he replies, “If she can stand it, I can. Play it!”


In Wizard of Oz, one of its most famous lines spoken by Judy Garland (as Dorothy Gale) to her dog: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It’s generally misquoted as: “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” or “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

“If you build it, they will come” was not what the voice said in Field of Dreams. Instead, it was: “If you build it, he will come.”

Did you know the correct quote?

Share a favorite movie or television quote you’ve used.


Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Idaho, Popular Culture


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