Journo’s Boffo Lingo: The Slang of Daily Variety, Part II

(This article originally appeared in Verbatim, Vol. XXX, No. 1, Spring 2005.)

Those who for the first time open up Daily Variety, the trade paper of Hollywood and the American entertainment industry, are often baffled and stymied by the paper’s use of language. Variety employs a number of grammatical tricks and jargon terms, which it dubs “slanguage,” to achieve its distinctive style.

Film genres have their own Variety names. Action movies are actioners; “Warner Bros. unspools Ice Cube actioner ‘Torque’ in 2,463 theaters” (16 Jan 2004, p. 7). A biographical movie is a biopic; a comedy is a laffer; and a romancer is a romantic movie. A documentary is either a doc or a docu, and a star vehicle is a starrer; “Fonda has not acted in movies since the 1990 Robert DeNiro starrer ‘Stanley & Iris” (16 Jan 2004, p. 5). Cartoon is either clipped to toon; “IDT Entertainment, which last month acquired a controlling interest in Vancouver toon shop Mainframe Entertainment” (28 Jan 2004, p. 6), or is called a tooner. This last is not to be confused with tuner, a musical, “‘POPPINS’ TUNER TAPS A MARY” (28 Jan 2004, p. 12).

A film that can be classified as both a comedy or a drama is a dramedy. A martial arts film is chopsocky; “‘Bill’ started out as one long pic until Miramax decided to whack it in half and release the ultra-violent chopsocky yarn as a two-part franchise” (Variety.com, 8 Jan 2004). The paper dubs melodramas as mellers; “Pic noms are rounded out by [...] vet Antonio Mercero’s teen cancer meller ‘The Fourth Floor,’ a local hit” (Variety.com, 10 Dec 2003). A suspense film is a suspenser and a western is an oater, “Series was a space oater set 500 years in the future, tracking the journeys of the crew aboard the Serenity” (Variety.com, 2 Mar 2004).

Television genres have similar nicknames. A made-for-TV movie is a telepic or a made-for; “Although Cohen won’t direct the made-for, he did supervise the commercials for GM” (Variety.com 8 Mar 2004). A talk show is either a gabber, a talker, or a yakker; “Meanwhile, reigning triumvirate ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ ‘Dr. Phil’ and ‘Live With Regis and Kelly’ have been the only gabbers to post any ratings upswing in households, this season to date” (16 Jan 2004, p. 38). Children’s television is kidvid and a sitcom aimed at teenagers is a zitcom. A soap opera is a sudser; “Francesca James, former exec producer of ABC’s "All My Children," was the first soap actress to exec produce a sudser” (Variety.com, 24 Feb 2004). A television miniseries is a mini and a TV special is a spec or a spesh; “Fox is no doubt hoping for boffo Nielsens from its animals boffing spesh, which is slated to air Feb. 13” (Variety.com, 19 Jan 2004). The plural is sometimes spex.

Nicknames of the various Hollywood studios are also part of Variety slang. Disney is either the Mouse or Mouse House; “The Mouse House bows ‘Disney’s Teacher’s Pet’” (16 Jan 2004, p. 7). Those that work there are, obviously, Mouseketeers, “Roy Disney and Stanley Gold are urging Mouse shareholders to reject head Mouseketeer Michael Eisner’s retention as board chairman” (28 Jan 2004, p. 6). Metro-Goldwin Mayer, or MGM, also has an animal nickname, the Lion or Leo, after its logo of a roaring lion.

Other studio nicknames are initialisms or clippings: WB for Warner Bros.; BV for Buena Vista, a Walt Disney label; Viv U for Vivendi Universal, or just U for Universal; Columbia Pictures is Col; and Paramount is P. These are the majors, as opposed the smaller independent productions, or indies; “The great Screener Wars pitted the indies vs. the majors” (28 Jan 2004, p. 1). Mid-size studios, like Miramax and New Line, that are neither majors nor indies are known as mini-majors. The independent production companies, those that do the grunt work of producing films and TV shows, are shingles. Shingles are usually centered around an individual producer who has metaphorically hung out a shingle. Jersey Films, for example, is actor-producer Danny DeVito’s shingle; “Landgraf had to negotiate an exit from both Jersey and Sony Pictures Television, where the shingle is in the final months of a production deal” (16 Jan 2004, p. 4).

Like the movie studios, each of the major US television networks, or nets, has its own nickname. ABC is the Alphabet net, while CBS, NBC, and the WB networks get their nicknames from their logos. CBS is the Eye and NBC is the Peacock. The WB is the Frog; “Frog did especially well on Thursday” (28 Jan 2004, p. 12). The Fox network does not get its own nickname; presumably the official name is catchy enough on its own. And the individual network affiliate stations, are affils.

Shows that air on outlets other than the major networks are off-net; “As for off-net action, there’s a slew of sitcoms waiting to strut their stuff in repeat mode” (16 Jan 2004, p. 38). Off-net stations can be pubcasters, or public broadcasters. They can be cablers, cable broadcasters; “Kids cabler [Nickelodeon] averaged 1.8 million viewers for the month” (28 Jan 2004, p. 12). Or they can be satcasters, satellite broadcasters. Subscription TV is feevee; “the digitalization of Germany’s cable systems would offer new and cost-effective opportunities for feevee ventures” (Variety.com, 14 Mar 2004). The smaller networks, namely UPN and the WB, are known as netlets, “‘Model’ [...] is within striking distance of ‘Buffy’s’ UPN-best 18-34 and total-viewer marks, set with that series’ two-hour netlet preem in October 2001” (Variety.com, 25 Feb 2004).

Job titles in the entertainment industry have their Variety slanguage equivalents as well. Film directors are helmers. Writers are scribes, scribblers, or scripters. Writer-directors are hyphenates, after the hyphenated title; “‘The first thing I did was call my dad,’ said ‘Seabiscuit’ hyphenate Gary Ross, who added both a writing and a best pic nom to his Oscar repertoire” (28 Jan 2004, p. 23). Scribes, scribblers, scripters, and hyphenates are typically members of the scribe house, or the Writer’s Guild of America. Those in front of the camera are thesps.

The paper uses similar terms for the music industry. Singers are thrushes; “Pact with Duff comes not long after the thesp/thrush inked a 2004-2005 comedy pilot deal with CBS” (15 Jan 2004, p. 6). A female singer is a chantoosie. Thrushes and chantoosies earn their living by chirping; "Dolly Parton, who joined Bonnie Raitt to sing ‘Angel From Montgomery,’ joked during a set change that she didn’t chirp the Raitt tune right" (Variety.com, 1 Oct 2003). Composers are either cleffers or tunesmiths, and dancers are either hoofers or a terps; “There’ll never be another hoofer like her. And there’ll be dancing in heaven with Annie, Fred (Astaire), Gene (Kelly) and Donald (O’Connor)” (Variety.com, 22 Jan 2004). All these thrushes and tunesmiths work for a diskery; “Studio and diskery execs embraced digital technology as a way of making scads of money by reformatting library titles in a new format” (Variety.com, 7 Dec 2003).

The talent are represented, or repped, by agents, or percenters; “the classic British TV nuclear thriller ‘Edge of Darkness,’ helmed by Martin Campbell, one of the percenter’s clients” (Variety.com, 19 Jun 2002). Percenters work for a percentery, or talent agency.

Producers and other business people are exex; “Ex-exex sue Bertelsmann” (16 Sep 2003, p. 25). Types of exex include prexies, “USA Network prexy Doug Herzog is expected to ankle his post” (28 Jan 2004, p. 1) and prezes, “Mohammed and Khatab ‘died of multiple gunshot wounds,’ CNN prez Jim Walton said in a note to staff” (28 Jan 2004, p. 6). Both prexies and prezes are toppers, or to most other English speakers, presidents; “Vivendi Universal officially withdrew its case against former topper Jean-Marie Messier” (28 Jan 2004, p. 8). The executive in charge of a production is a showrunner, “All three—as well as Jerry Bruckheimer—will be exec producers on ‘CSI: New York,’ with Zuiker serving as showrunner” (16 Jan 2004, p. 38).

All of these are simply seeking to acquire and entertain an aud; “But Paar was very much the center of the show, riveting auds even when he talked about himself” (28 Jan 2004, p. 2). Auds that are riveted usually engage in heavy rounds of mitting, or applause; “They garnered the heftiest mitting of the festival, plus three standing ovations” (Variety.com, 9 Jun 1992).

To Be Continued...

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