Popular culture has always helped contribute to language development and be responsible for many little additions over the years. Cinema is one of the key delivery methods that has ensured new words and phrases have been given the chance of becoming adopted by a worldwide mainstream audience. While some may only have a fleeting period in the limelight, others become indoctrinated into everyday language long term. Here’s a list of a few of the all-time classics in no particular order, I can imagine a few of these have caused major headaches for translators and subtitles along the way.
1. “Yippie-ki-yay Mother f*cker”
Made famous in Die Hard (1988)
Origin: “Yippie-ki-yay Mother f*cker” is John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) response to Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) when asked, “Do you really think you have a chance against us Mr. Cowboy?”. It subsequently became a catchphrase used in all forthcoming sequels. Originally based on an old cowboy expression of joy (without the expletive) Yippie-i-o ki yay – Bruce himself claims the line was just ad-lib and the rest is, as they say, history.
2. “Show me the Money”
Made famous in Jerry Maguire (1996)
Origin: Along with ‘you had me at hello’, ‘Show me the money’ is a phrase coined in the film Jerry Maguire. Generally, it’s accepted to mean either the speaker wishes to know how much they will be paid for something or they want to see evidence that something is worth the asking price.
3. “Hasta La Vista, Baby”
Made famous in Terminator 2 (1991)
Origin: The Spanish translation of see you later. ‘Hasta la vista, baby‘ received worldwide exposure in the film Terminator 2 during an exchange between John Connor (Edward Furlong) and ‘The Terminator’ (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
John Connor: No, no, no, no. You gotta listen to the way people talk. You don’t say “affirmative,” or some shit like that. You say “no problemo.” And if someone comes up to you with an attitude you say “eat me.” And if you want to shine them on it’s “hasta la vista, baby.”
4. “Wax on, Wax off”
Made famous in The Karate Kid (1984)
Origin: The phrase refers to circular hand movements used while polishing cars, which unbeknownst to the main protagonist, Daniel (Ralph Macchio), was his teacher’s (Mr. Miyagi, Pat Morita) way of getting him to do chores and subversively teach him Karate techniques.
5. “Mud Blood”
Made famous in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Origin: Well this, along with a multitude of other inventive words, first appeared in the books but also became an iconic term in the movies so we’ll let this one slide. ‘Mud Blood’ is a highly derogatory term used to describe someone born of non-magical (Muggle) parents.
6. “Party On Dude”
Made famous in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Origin: Let’s not over complicate this one… ‘Continue enjoying yourself’ …Station!
7. “You’re Toast”
Made famous in Ghostbusters (1984)
Origin: Believe it or not, the use of toast in this manner was actually invented by Bill Murray in Ghostbusters when he altered Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’s script slightly.
The line as written: “I’m gonna turn this guy into toast.”
The line as ad-libbed by Murray: “All right, this chick is toast.”
This has now been officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary which says the use of “toast” is taken to mean “a person or thing that is defunct, dead, finished, in serious trouble, etc.,” originated with the movie. So… “Who ya gonna call?”
8. “Go Ahead, Make My Day”
Made famous in Sudden Impact (1983)
Origin: Harry Callahan’s (A.K.A Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood) famous challenge directed towards a robber holding a gun to a waitress’s head. Instead of backing off, Harry points his .44 Magnum revolver into the man’s face and dares him to shoot, saying with clenched teeth and in his characteristic rough grumble, “Go ahead, make my day”
The phrase “go ahead, make my day” was written by Charles B. Pierce, an independent filmmaker who is credited with “story by” in the film Sudden Impact.
9. “Truffle Shuffle”
Made famous in The Goonies (1985)
Origin: To truffle shuffle is to hold and shake your stomach. The origin of this came from the movie “Goonies” where the character Lawrence ‘Chunk’ Cohen, is required to stand and perform the manoeuvre as an act of ridicule before he is permitted to enter his friend’s house.
10. “Nobody puts baby in the corner”
Made famous in Dirty Dancing (1987)
Origin: Famously coined in Dirty Dancing by Johnny (Patrick Swayze) in conversation with the parents of Baby (Jennifer Grey) prior to the final dance. She’s sitting in the corner with her parents, who were mad at her apparently…. Cinematic gold so I’m told!
Now typically used when the correct amount of attention is not given to a situation but everything turns out OK anyway… fair enough then.
Made famous in Wayne’s World (1992)
Origin: The term used by main characters, Wayne and Garth, to exclaim their ‘excitement’ in reference to an attractive woman, typically accompanied with a pelvic thrust.
-Number one babe, Kim Basinger… Schwing!
-Casandra is a total babe… Schwing!
12. “Negative Ghostrider, The Pattern is Full”
Made famous in Top Gun (1986)
Origin: Upon completing a training mission, Maverick (Tom Cruise) radios air traffic control and requests a fly-by. ATC replies with ‘Negative Ghostrider the pattern is full’ – or ‘No, there are too many planes circling waiting to land’… If you have not heard this phrase used in general conversation, you should assume that the people you associate with aren’t massive nerds.
13. “The Numbers All Go To 11!”
Made famous in This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Origin: To ensure that Spinal Tap would always be the loudest band they made sure all their amps went up to 11.
Nigel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…
Martin: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Martin: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Martin: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
14. “I Pity the Fool”
Made famous in Rocky III (1982) & The A-Team (1983)
Origin: A quote synonymous with MR. T, roughly translated as meaning ‘I feel sorry for them as I’m going to have to hurt them’ but don’t just take our word for it, Mark Lee over at overthinkingit.com conducted some in-depth research into fool-pitying.
15. “To Infinity and Beyond”
Made famous in Toy Story (1995)
Origin: Buzz Lightyear’s famous line which basically means anything is possible. Once again we can turn to the vast expanse of the internet to find someone who’s spent a lot of time looking at the question in detail.
Made famous in Star Trek (1966)
Origin: The Mind-meld made its first appearance in the original series of Star Trek during episode “Dagger of the Mind” which aired in 1966. A mind-meld is a technique for sharing thoughts, experiences, memories, and knowledge with another individual, essentially a limited form of telepathy typically undertaken by Vulcans. It usually requires physical contact with a subject, though instances of mind-melds without contact have been documented (when I say documented I mean it happened in the TV show a few times… the mind-meld is not, in fact, a real thing, that’s right Klingon speakers, I said it).
17. “Hakuna Matata”
Made famous in Lion King (1994)
Origin: ‘Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase, Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze… It means no worries for the rest of your days… “Hakuna matata” is a Swahili phrase which roughly translated means “no worries”. It is formed by the words hakuna (there is not here) and matata (plural form of the problem) so the song does, in fact, do a pretty good job of explaining it.
Made famous in Teenage Mutant Hero (or Ninja) Turtles (1987)
Origin: Originally popularised by a character on the US television programme Howdy Doody in the 50’s. ‘Cowabunga’ later became associated with surfing culture and then achieved world-wide comprehension after it featured regularly on the US television cartoon programme Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and the subsequent live action films). ‘Cowabunga!’ is typically used to express delight or satisfaction… for example ‘this post is amazing, cowabunga!’
19. “As If”
Made famous in Clueless (1995)
Origin: ‘As If!’ became a trademark catchphrase for the lead character, Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone in the film Clueless. The film’s director, Amy Heckerling credits the gay community for coining the phrase in the early ’90s and once again you can find out more about ‘As If’s’ origin from another internet resource with a lot of time.
Made famous in Star Wars (1977)
Origin: A droid is a robot that possesses a degree of artificial intelligence. First used by Star Wars special effects artist John Stears, the term is a clipped form of “android”, a word originally reserved for robots designed to look and act like a human. The word “droid” has been a registered trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd since 1977… whoops, does that mean I have to pay?
21. “My Precious”
Made famous in Lord of the Rings (2001)
Origin: Catchphrase popularised by Gollum in both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books and films. The phrase refers to the ‘One Ring’ a magical piece of jewellery which, when put on, renders the wearer invisible. It also has a nasty habit of warping the mind of whoever possesses it and causes them to refer to it as ‘My Precious’ …but, in the end, it’s not really theirs, its Sauron’s.
22. “Do you want to play a game?”
Made famous in Saw (2004)
Origin: The catchphrase of a creepy looking doll controlled by a serial killer known as ‘Jigsaw’. The phrase is uttered prior to listing a set of horrific instructions where a captor (or captors) tend to be forced into mutilating themselves or someone else… lovely.
Made famous in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Origin: Johnny Depp (Capt. Jack Sparrow) uses “Savvy” as a verb on several occasions as a one-word question after his explanations of Pirate Lore, “The Code”, or another diatribe during the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. Basically, it can be used interchangeably with ‘Do you Understand’. As a noun, it means shrewdness and practical knowledge, Savvy?
Made famous in Mary Poppins (1964)
Origin: The Oxford English Dictionary estimates that the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was first attested in the 1940s. The roots of the word have been defined as follows: super- “above”, cali- “beauty”, fragilistic- “delicate”, expiali- “to atone”, and -docious “educable”, with the sum of these parts signifying roughly “Atoning for educability through delicate beauty.” According to the film, in which the word gained its popularity, it is defined as “something to say when you have nothing to say”. However, it is commonly defined as “extraordinarily good” or “wonderful” as all references to the word in the film can be perceived as positive. Dictionary.com also notes that the word is “used as a nonsense word by children to express approval or to represent the longest word in English… Thanks, Wikipedia, so it means ‘very good’ then.
25. “Life is Like a Box of Chocolates”
Made famous in Forrest Gump (1994)
Origin: “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” This wasn’t coined in the movie though, The book Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, first published in Japanese in 1987and in English in 1989, contains the following: “Just remember, life is like a box of chocolates.” … “You know, they’ve got these chocolate assortments, and you like some but you don’t like others? And you eat all the ones you like, and the only ones left are the ones you don’t like as much? I always think about that when something painful comes up.”… “Now I just have to polish these off, and everything will be OK.’ Life is a box of chocolates.” We can only assume that Forrest’s mum hid the menu you get in chocolates and told Forrest this fib to prevent him from identifying individual chocolates, therefore, providing a bigger chance of keeping her favourites to herself, horrible woman. Let’s not forget “Run Forrest, Run!” either!
Made famous in The Core (2003) & Avatar (2009)
Origin: Technically the word ‘unobtainium’ has been in existence since the late 50s in real-world aerospace engineering. It’s a collective term that refers to unusual or costly materials or it’s used when theorising about the material with characteristics perfectly suited to a given application (but which doesn’t actually exist). The widespread understanding of the term in Sci-fi movies tends to reference them later in that it’s lazily used to fill a plot hole when an exotic, impossible material is required for the story to make sense.
Made famous in: Back to the future (1985)
Origin: A jigawatt is a fictional measurement of power. It is used in the Back to the Future movies and represents an extremely high power (some say it equals one gigawatt, or 1 billion watts). About 1.21 Jigawatts is required to power the Flux capacitor to travel back and forth through time.
The film’s writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale intended for the power to be gigawatts, but heard it pronounced as “jigawatt” and as such, spelt and said it that way in the script, not learning the real pronunciation until after the film had been shot.
Made famous in The Simpsons (1985)
Origin: Cromulent is an adjective that was coined by writer, David X. Cohen in the Simpsons episode “Lisa the Iconoclast”, aired in 1996. Since it was coined, it has appeared in Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon. The meaning of cromulent is inferred only from its usage, which indicates that it is a positive attribute. Dictionary.com defines it as meaning fine or acceptable. Ben Macintyre (Times Columnist) has written that it means “valid or acceptable”.
Made famous in Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1970)
Origin: The Monty Python ‘Spam’ sketch involves two customers in a café trying to order something for breakfast. When asked what is on the menu the waitress reels off a long list of dishes that mostly contain Spam (A gourmet delicacy of tinned pork shoulder and ham, which arguably had a worldwide appeal during World War 2, its popularity as a foodstuff has waned somewhat since, except in Hawaii). Interestingly, unsolicited junk email became known as ‘Spam’ due to the product’s ubiquitous, unavoidable portrayal in the Monty Python sketch.
30. “Don’t Think, Feeeeeeel!”
Made famous in: Enter the Dragon (1973)
Origin: “Don’t think! Feeeeeel. It is like a finger pointing away to the moon… [WHACK!] Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” A classic quote from the kung-fu legend that was Bruce Lee. Basically, this means that true understanding is achieved when you have gone beyond simply learning to do something and can ‘feel’ what you need to do intuitively. If you focus too much on analysing the learning you will miss out on the true goal of being able to draw on the knowledge without needing to think about it, according to Adam Wik anyway. On a side note, the chap who shares the scene with Bruce during this quote deserves an Oscar for his delivery alone.
Having got to the end of the list I’m sure you’ve already thought of thousands more of your own, add some of them in the comments below and let’s see how much of our language has been influenced by the movies. Oh and just in case you’re still wondering what a ‘neologism’ is, it’s a newly coined word or expression.
0 thoughts on “Cinelistics: 30 Words, Phrases and Neologisms Popularised by Film”
Did you ever work at Blockbuster? Amazing knowledge of films. Awesome!
Not to mention the cartoon catchphrases that have entered our vocabulary:
That’s all, folks!
What’s up, doc?
Elementary, my dear Watson, After all, tomorrow is another day! Here’s Johnny!
“Jigawatt” was the standard pronunciation of “gigawatt” for many years before BTTF came out. The “hard-g” pronunciation only really became dominant after that point. Basically, as the general public encountered the prefix more it became more likely to be pronounced “gig” rather than “jig”.