They say that a truly great writer has the ability to adapt their tone and style to the publication and audience they’re writing for. I can write a sharp scathing business letter that reads like it has come from a lawyer’s office (much to the chagrin of my apartment building manager). I can write a soulful article about a food artisan and truly convey how much they love their work. I can write flowery essays so vivid that they utterly capture one brief moment in time.
Yet when I speak, I am prone to cursing, slang and most of all, the catchphrase.
Not clichéd phrases, but little sound bites culled from popular culture.
After seeing the award winning play I, Claudia twice, Greg and I now refer to almost everything as “HIGH-larious”, a phrase used regularly by the 12-year-old title character.
When cooking, or completing any task, really, I will loudly pronounce “Done!”, something I’ve picked up from Gordon Ramsay’s The F-Word show.
From The Simpson’s, we’ve collected 20 years of catch phrases and word play. I now regularly (and jokingly) refer to the book place as the “lie-berry”, call the elevator the “uppity box”, and have used the phrases, “donuts, is there anything they can’t do?” and “Haha! Your Dad’s not handy!” on more than one occasion.
The problem is, I’m 41.
I don’t know if this makes me hip or really lame.
What I do know is that, in regular conversation, with otherwise normal people, most folks have no clue what I’m talking about if I include catchphrases. I’m not dropping obscure references to mid-90s German industrial bands or Swedish cinema, but plain old lines from really popular North American mainstream shows viewed by millions. Sure, there’s some obscure stuff littered in there, but when speaking to regular folks I generally assume that they won’t know the “you don’t want to look in there” line from Repo Man. But everyone knows and uses “D’oh!”… don’t they?
I don’t know why I’m so enthralled with catchphrases and soundbites. Maybe because our mainstream media now revolves around them to some degree. Or maybe it’s just a fun way to remember a HIGH-larious bit in a show, play, book or film.
On the other hand, when I use a catchphrase, particularly an obscure one, with someone who I know will get the reference, it’s akin to speaking in a secret language. When I’m out somewhere with Greg and one of us leans in to the other and says, “Narf!” is a goofy voice, only we know what that really means to us. And if I’m talking online with my friend Rik and say, “do you look a mess, do you have a hangover?”, I know it will make him laugh because he’ll remember the day we sat in a restaurant and sang the extra bit from the especially rare 12″ version of Bedsitter by Soft Cell at the top of our lungs, just because we were so delighted to discover someone else who knew the all words. Only my Halifax peeps, from the mid-80s Backstreets Amusements era will know that “forest in the sky” is the roof garden at the Halifax law courts, and an excellent spot for late-night underage drinking.
And when you’re a teenager, catchphrases do seem to pepper the conversation. They’re a way of identifying your tribe. But as a grown up woman, whose tribe am I in now? Am I using catchphrases as a way to assert that I’m still young and fun? Or as a way to differentiate myself from “normal” people? Or is my brain just a huge sponge for popular culture?
Or maybe not. When searching for an image for this piece I Googled “donuts, is there anything they can’t do?” Google gave me 3,980,000 web pages and 1,960,000 images. It seems I’m not alone after all.