"I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 17 19:59:34 UTC 2010

The WWN quote is quite a find, Garson. It's like the beginning of a meme.

I recall that when the Robert Young commercials appeared, there was some
criticism (probably in the N.Y. Times or TV Guide) about the strategy.
While Young was never identified as a TV doctor, and didn'twear a white
coat, the tactic was taken to be exactly as you say:  the suckers would
unconsciously accept the ad as an endorsement of Sanka by America's leading
fictitious medical man. And you don't get more authoritative than that!

I doubt that, in the ads, Young ever said, "I'm not really a doctor," or
anything remotely like it.


On Wed, Nov 17, 2010 at 1:10 PM, Garson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com>wrote:

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> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Thanks to Jon for mentioning this template, and thanks to Arnold for
> pointing to the four Language Log posts. The first instance I could
> locate of a near-match for the template and the idea that animates the
> template is dated 1981. The wording employed here differs from the
> common template: "I'm only an actor but I play a doctor on TV". This
> phrase occurs in the tabloid Weekly World News in a scenario that
> attempts to humorously contrast an actor with a real doctor:
> Cite: 1981 March 31, Weekly World News, "Has-been athletes commit a
> foul by becoming sports announcers on TV" by Rex Winston, Page 30,
> Published by Weekly World News. (Google Books full view)
> How'd you like to be wheeled into surgery and look up to find Jack
> Klugman sharpening his scalpel?
> "Hey, you're only an actor — you aren't a doctor," you would scream.
> "Yeah. I'm only an actor but I play a doctor on TV," comes Klugman's
> reply. "So just lie there quietly and let me take out your appendix."
> Anybody in his right mind would agree that playing a doctor on TV
> doesn't make someone a qualified surgeon, right?
> http://books.google.com/books?id=iO8DAAAAMBAJ&q=appendix#v=snippet&
> Several individuals mentioned in the Language Log posts contend that
> the template was used in the 1960s or 1970s, and some specifically
> point to the actor Robert Young who played Marcus Welby as an early
> wielder of the nascent snowclone.
> I was unable to find evidence for this, but my searching was limited
> because I know of no database of transcripts for TV commercials. On
> the other hand, the texts of many magazine and newspaper
> advertisements are searchable. Here is the copy of a 1977 ad featuring
> Robert Young. It  occurs beneath a smiling picture of the actor in a
> suit with a coffee cup in his hands:
> Cite: 1977 February 02, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sanka advertisement
> with Robert Young, Page 3-B, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
> "I think it's important that we take care of ourselves. That's why
> doctors have advised millions of caffein-concerned Americans, like me,
> to drink SANKA Brand Decaffeinated Coffee. There's no cafein to make
> me nervous or tense, so I really feel good. SANKA Brand is the one
> coffee I can feel good about." - Robert Young
> The actor is not explicitly identified as a doctor nor is he
> identified as an actor who once played a doctor on television. The
> connection is implicit, and it relies on the memory of the reader. The
> phrase "like me" refers to "caffein-concerned Americans" in a surface
> analysis of the text, but it may also activate the reader's memory as
> a trigger phrase. Some readers will envision Marcus Welby the caring,
> ultracompetent physician when Robert Young says "like me".
> Garson
> On Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 1:34 PM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at stanford.edu>
> wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> > Subject:      Re: "I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV"
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > On Nov 16, 2010, at 10:08 AM, Jon Lighter wrote:
> >
> >> I'm still hearing jocular allusions to this TV line from nearly a
> quarter
> >> century ago. The most recent was this morning. They take the form of
> "I'm
> >> not an X but I play one on TV." Fred wisely included it among the
> undated
> >> "Advertising Slogans" in YBQ.
> >>
> >> The original aired in 1987:
> >>
> >> http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x36pho_vicks-44_ads
> >>
> >> GB offers 200 exact cites, surely making this one of the best-known
> >> quotations in current use.
> >
> > Language Log postings on the Play One snowclone:
> >
> > AZ, 10/12/05: Playing one:
> >  http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002537.html
> >
> > AZ, 10/13/05: Playing one 2:
> >  http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002541.html
> >
> > AZ, 10/16/05: Playing one 3:
> >  http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002550.html
> >
> > AZ, 10/19/05: My big fat Greek snowclone:
> >  http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002557.html
> > (on playful allusions vs. snowclones proper)
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
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> >
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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