The language of films
Posted: 12 May 2012 01:35 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Interesting little article from Katherine Connor Martin of the OED on the language of films in the OED. It’s no real surprise that the films with the most cites in OED are movies dealing with teenage culture with George Lucas’ American Graffiti leading the pack (11 cites). I made an attempt to discover just which terms were cited from the Lucas movie but realized that I hadn’t a clue how to search by source (Under Sources OED lists only the top 1000). Is there any way to do it?

From the article, on Bill Murray and toast.

Not every notable utterance in a film actually appears in the script. It is to the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters that we owe the menacing potential of the word toast, n.1 (Additions, December 2002). The memorable line, spoken by Bill Murray as he prepares to incinerate a baddie with a laser, is ‘this chick is toast.’ That line was ad-libbed; the closest thing in the script is the less memorable turn of phrase, ‘I’m gonna turn this guy into toast.’

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Posted: 12 May 2012 05:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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That’s an excellent illustration of why it’s important to move beyond printed sources for dictionary corpuses.

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Posted: 12 May 2012 11:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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There’s an uneasy alliance between popular slang and commercial pop culture. Raymond Chandler claimed that he invented the title/phrase “The Big Sleep” out of whole cloth. Now, of course “The Big X” (Big Apple, Big Guy, Big Bang, Big Dipper, Big Kahuna, etc.) are ubiquitous in everyday usage. It’s difficult to tell if, but very likely that, Chandler was influenced by various phrases or usages that were not written down at the time. It probably was more of an underground kind of thing. But then the book and the movie set the phrase in people’s minds and thereafter probably gave rise to such titles as The Big Chill, The Big Lebowski, The Big Easy, etc.

The problem is that media venues continually appropriate the found-art aspect of anthropological artifacts in actual popular culture to the extent that the things that people do are more based on media than the other way around. It seems as if the TV commercials aimed at kids are more busily spreading slang than the kids themselves. Anyway, I guess that’s kind of obvious.

It would be interesting to find out what the neologisms were from American Graffitti.

Bill Murray is known for re-arranging scripts. He said in a Terri Gross interview some years back that there were a few writers in Hollywood who were really grateful he had changed things around for them. I’m betting Groundhog Day is at the top of the list. Nice to know he also did some major editing on the fly, as in the Ghostbusters example.

(spelling edit)

[ Edited: 12 May 2012 11:42 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 13 May 2012 04:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Most of those cites from American Graffiti aren’t neologisms. They were just selected by the OED editors as representative uses. The one neologism is to cut the cheese (although HDAS has a cite of an oral use from 1959).

Regarding actors changing scripts, that depends a lot on the director. Some directors encourage their actors to alter the exact wording; others insist the lines be delivered as written. Obviously, the bigger the star, the more likely they are to get their way.

Part of slang’s appeal is the in-group status it confers. Therefore, often, but by no means always, once a slang term has been appropriated by the media it ceases to be used widely in day to day usage among the group that originated it.

[ Edited: 13 May 2012 04:11 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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