Verbings, superlatives, and film catchphrases

In my monthly column at Macmillan Dictionary Blog, I’ve been writing about various aspects of language use and innovation. Here are excerpts from the latest three posts, in chronological order. Click the titles to read the rest:

Verbing weirds language – but in a good way

When contact gained popular use as a verb (‘Please contact us later’), critics rejected it as a corruption and a ‘hideous vulgarism’. Nowadays most people are unaware it was ever a problem. But the same controversy has clung to the verbs impact and architect – even though both have been around for centuries. At major athletics events, there is always ‘harrumphing from the stickler brigade’, as Liz Potter reports, over the verbing of podium, medal, final and gold. For some, it’s still a tough ask.

Party on, film catchphrases!

Some films are so popular and linguistically memorable that their lines enter widespread use. It can happen with a line in a classic film, such as ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ (Gone with the Wind), ‘I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore’ (The Wizard of Oz), ‘I’ll be back’ (The Terminator), and ‘Play it again, Sam’ (Casablanca – even though that line is never used in the film). Sometimes it’s not a catchphrase but a new word that enters the language indirectly: gaslight from the 1944 film is a good example.

Good, better and best rules for comparatives and superlatives

Easyeasier and easiest illustrates another rule, one of spelling. When the adjective ends in a consonant plus y, the y changes to i (heavy heavier, not *heavyer). There are two other spelling rules. When the adjective ends in a mute e, add –r or –st, not –er or –est (latelater, not *lateer). And when it ends in a consonant after a stressed, single-letter vowel, double the consonant (fit fitter, not *fiter). Once we learn these rules, we can apply them broadly.

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2 Responses to Verbings, superlatives, and film catchphrases

  1. astraya says:

    Quoting movies can fall flat if the other person doesn’t know the movie or the quote. In Korea, I had a Korean colleague with the English nickname Muriel. One morning she said she’d been out late the night before, so I instinctively said ‘You’re terrible, Muriel’, which any Australian would instantly recognise as a line from the movie Muriel’s Wedding, but which any Korean wouldn’t. In the movie, it’s actually positive – Muriel has just gamed the system and got away with it. Muriel’s Wedding has been adapted into a musical and there are large banners along Sydney’s streets with that quotation on it. (I’ve got several more similar stories, but I’ll keep it short.)

    Earlier this year I posted about comparatives and superlatives, and commented that Jim Croce calls Leroy Brown ‘The baddest man in the whole damned town / Badder than old King Kong’, not ‘The worst man … Worse than King King’.

    • Stan Carey says:

      That’s very true about being in on the joke, or the quote. I trust she saw the funny/positive side once it was explained. (I watched Muriel’s Wedding when it came out, and liked it more than I expected to, but I haven’t seen it since.)

      My parents had a Jim Croce tape in the car when I was a child, so that lyric is a proper earworm for me. I wish I’d thought of it as an example of baddest!

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