Catchphrases catching fire

Curio & Co. looks at how popular film quotes and catchphrases enter the pop culture subconscious. Film still of classic black and white film Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, one of our favorite films at Curio and Co.

Beam me up, Scotty. Play it again, Sam…How can it not be in the film if we know the catchphrase so well?

Pop culture is full of famous catchphrases, and our conversations around the office here at Curio & Co. are littered with movie quotes and old advertising slogans. We can have whole conversations about everyday topics just using favorite lines.

For most of us, these catchphrases become part of the stock repertoire of expressions that we use in normal conversation, so that we may even forget where they originated. I guess then we have to admit that we’re not really quoting anymore – those phrases (and the products they might be promoting) become part of our subconscious. And with over 150 years of recorded speech to draw upon, we have a lot of material available.

Take the film And Now a Word from Our Sponsor, released in 2013 (and it’s title, a well known phrase). In that film, an ad executive wakes up in the hospital and is only able to speak in ad slogans. You might not thing he has much to say, or that his catchphrases don’t allow him to carry on a meaningful conversation, but you’d be wrong. Not only is he able to keep the plot going but he changes the lives of those around him.

But if these catchphrases are such a meaningful part of pop culture, how did we manage to conjure up some of the most famous ones out of thin air? Because some of the most memorable (Just the facts, ma’am/Elementary, my dear Watson/You dirty rat!/Do you feel lucky, punk?/We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!) were never actually spoken in film, TV or in literature.

In the case of “Play it again, Sam,” the closest any of the characters get is to say “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.” So it must be a case of listening between the lines. We don’t hear those exact words in that exact order, but we know that’s what the characters are saying, perhaps. Or maybe, in the case of “Beam me up, Scotty,” we’re hearing a kind of shorthand: since it varies every time the characters get close to the line (“Scotty, beam us up…Three to beam up, Scotty…Beam me out of here, Scotty!”), our brains try to approximate what the average between all the versions could be.

It all just goes to show how much pop culture becomes a part of our lives and our social DNA. Our favorite characters and films really do take on new life as we experience them, and continue to live on in catchphrases.