Slang Word-Coiners

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Thu Mar 21 19:58:48 UTC 2002

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of James A. Landau
Sent: Thursday, March 21, 2002 10:51 AM
Subject: Re: Slang Word-Coiners

>Gene Rhoddenberry, creator of Star Trek, for such expressions as
>"warp/warp speed" (used for an operating system from IBM), "phaser",
>"mind touch", "beam me down" (as in "beam me down, Scotty, there's no
>intelligent life down here.") and "that does not compute".

It's "Roddenberry." I don't think "phaser" has much currency outside of Star
Trek, although "set phasers on stun" has limited currency as a catch-phrase.
The Star Trek term is "mind meld," not "mind touch." And "beam me up" is far
more common than "down."

>Two other science fiction shows: "Mork and Mindy" contributed "Ork
>calling Mork" (I had a boss who liked to say to me "Earth calling Jim").
>The Superman TV show's much-quoted opening speech ("Faster than a speeding
>bullet/More powerful than a >locomotive...never-ending battle for truth,
>justice, and the American Way") has contributed more cliches to English
>than has Macbeth's "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy.

The "Earth calling..." phrase has to be older than Mork and Mindy.

While we're on the subject of space, "Houston, we have a problem" was coined
by astronaut Jim Lovell.

>It is odd that more television shows have not contributed to American
>slang or otherwise, but outside of the above science fiction shows,
>from TV are surprisingly rare.  The only ones I can think of offhand are a
>from "Lone Ranger" (itself originally a radio show) such as "what do you
mean 'we',
>white man?" and some insults ("dingbat", "meathead", etc.) from "Archie
>(I can't recall the formal title of that show) but I'm not sure these
insults were
>original to the show.

"All in the Family" didn't originate "meatball" or "dingbat," although it
certainly popularized them.

And the "what do you mean we, white man" isn't actually from the TV or radio
show, rather it's the punch line of a joke.

I don't think TV coinages are rare at all, but many are faddish and drop out
of the lingo after a brief while. I'd put "Mork calling Ork" in this
category--if you said that now, people would just stare at you. It may be
that broadcast TV is too generally familiar to create long-lasting slang.
The words and phrases gain too much exposure, too fast. And there is no
association with a particular social group that keeps them current or lends
them cachet. Hence, they are faddish. Some examples:

"Sanford and Son" gave us "I'm coming Elizabeth!"

"Seinfeld" is rife with these, "master of my domain," "close talker," "soup
nazi," "not that there's anything wrong with that," among many, many others.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" gives us "wiggins." (This is a great show to
watch for writer-invented slang, but I'm not sure how much of it is actually
used outside the confines of the show's scripts.)

"The Simpsons" gives us "D'oh!," "underachiever and proud of it," and "don't
have a cow."

"King of the Hill" gives us "that boy ain't right."

"McCloud" gave us "Thar ya go, chief."

"Survivor" gives us "vote off the island."

I'll bet "Jerry Springer" is the origin of many slang expressions, but I
don't watch it (really) so I can't come up with specific examples.

The phenomenon is even spoofed in the movie "Robocop," where various
nonsensical TV catch-phrases like, "I'll buy that for a dollar" keep
appearing throughout the movie.

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