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Lex maniac

Investigating changes in American English vocabulary over the last 50 years

Tag Archives: movies

forever (adj.)

(1990’s | “permanent,” “interminable,” “endless,” “unstoppable”)

“Forever” has long done time as a noun, an adverb (“forever young”), even an interjection (forever and ever, amen). What was left? Adjective. And it is coming to pass, led by three expressions detailed below. We shall see whether we can make a verb of it.

“Forever war,” familiar to anyone who has been following the news lately, apparently got its start as the title of Joe Haldeman’s science fiction novel (1978). According to LexisNexis, it took more than twenty years for the expression to gain currency in political commentary; it started appearing in the aughts, the decade in which we launched two prolonged, costly, unsuccessful wars in the name of a third, the war on terrorism. Its recent popularity, owed largely to Joe Biden, is spawning spinoffs; Eric Alterman gave us “forever warriors” and “forever nonsense” in the title of a recent column.

“Forever family” is first spotted in LexisNexis in the late eighties, attributed to foster children hoping to land in a stable environment. Here it has a wistful, aspirational sound, softened further by its connection with children in difficult straits. “Forever home,” which seems to have trailed it by a few years, is very similar, used for both children and pets who would benefit from adoption. Recently it has taken on another meaning, analogous to the old expression “dream house” — where a family intends to settle down. In the early seventies, Lady Bird Johnson used “forever home” to mean “childhood home,” not a particular dwelling so much as the place or region one can always go back to, a perfectly logical interpretation that has not stood the test of time.

Those three are established in everyday language. So far, “forever” hasn’t adopted many other nouns. The term “forever chemicals” (in polluted groundwater) seems to be spreading slowly, like the chemicals themselves. I’ve seen “forever prisoners” and “forever commitment.” The Forever Project in New Zealand devotes itself to mitigating the effects of climate change. The Forever Purge, a film about a white supremacist uprising, has done well at the box office this year. The adjective seems poised for greater things as we tremble on the verge of a forever pandemic.

“Forever” has a strong religious echo, yet earnest teenagers use it all the time, too (as in “BFF”). The word may at times denote the full span of eternity, but more often we use it to mean “as long as you or I live.” In “forever war,” it doesn’t even mean that — more like “taking an unreasonably long time to end.”

Lex Maniac has worked a whimsical vein lately, so here are more things “forever” could modify beyond death and taxes: beta version (I’m looking at you, Google), interim coach or other official (sometimes they hang around for a while), speech, movie, line, or wait (it works better in front of one word than in front of several). Then there are more serious possibilities: friend, pension, budget deficit, shortage. Some things do last forever, or come so close they might as well.

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note to self

(1990’s | journalese? | “mental note”)

You tied a string around your finger in order to remember something important, and it worked because every time you looked at your finger, it reminded you of whatever it was — generally a specific task. In truth, you didn’t really see people walking around with strings around their fingers cutting off circulation, but the concept was still current in my youth, if only figurative, at least among older people. Now it has gone the way of so many colorful expressions of our forebears.

Never fear, we rustled up a verbal equivalent. “Note to self” appears to be a Briticism; the first hit in LexisNexis in the U.S. dates from 1994, by which time it had become familiar in the U.K. and Canada. From the start, it was the property of lifestyle columnists, book reviewers, and the like — writers whose stock in trade is hipness. The phrase had and retains a humorous or ironic quality, making it easy prey for comedians. Most of all, it is rueful; if everything goes fine, there’s no need for a note to self. Normally the phrase introduces an observation that is either obvious or has recently impressed itself upon the speaker, with the implication that the reminder should not have been necessary. When it is used to set up a more far-fetched piece of advice, it adds an extra layer of irony. It nearly always is used to introduce a sentence, though it may appear on its own, as a response to oneself or to another speaker.

“Note to self” is commonly associated with recording one’s own voice, as with a dictaphone or mp3 recorder; picture a high-powered executive muttering a reminder to acquire a smaller company or buy chocolate for the spouse. That scene owes its ancestry in turn to spy movies and their parodies. (I don’t think Maxwell Smart ever said “note to self,” but it’s easy to imagine him doing it.) Yet the voice recorder was never essential even in early uses of the expression, which has always been available as a purely written flourish. Because the phrase prods us to useful accomplishments or at least to avoid pitfalls — no one ever says, “Note to self: alienate friends and ruin life” — it forms a twig on the great tree of self-improvement and self-help, which has overshadowed American culture. The note to self is both an admission that one continues to need to do better and a path to the goal. The phrase met quick acceptance partly because it fit in readily with one of our national obsessions.

We owe this week’s expression to lovely Lenny from Houston, who impressed it on my ear several years ago. It has been rattling around all this time, surprisingly long considering how fruitful it is.

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product placement

(1980’s | advertese? businese? | “advertising,” “publicity,” “exposure,” “play”)

The concept is much older, but the term was coming into general use by the mid-1980’s, as pursuers of product placement were becoming more organized and profitable. A film regarded as an early example of product placement as we understand it today was Spielberg’s “E.T.,” which featured Reese’s Pieces prominently. That was hardly the first appearance of a commercial product on celluloid — as opposed to the fake brands often seen in post-war television and movies — but it did portend an unholy alliance of Hollywood and Madison Avenue resulting in ever more insidious assaults on our wallets. Another significant event: Coca-Cola bought Columbia Pictures in 1982, which led to the sudden disappearance of rival products from Columbia’s films. Before 1980, the practice existed but was much less formal and standardized; the production company and manufacturer made a quick arrangement and that was that.

Turning product placement into a regular part of filmmaking opened up another revenue channel, and the studios started making better money when they got serious about negotiating placements. The brands benefit, too; the consensus is that product placement is mutually useful, at least for the suits. It’s more of a burden on the creative people; scripts may have to be rewritten in the midst of shooting to insert a product, for example. Music videos and television shows soon began making their own deals, and product placement spread quickly. When it occurs in other cultural manifestations, such as sporting events, it’s called something else, such as sponsorship.

It has all moved on-line now, needless to say. Influencers have raised the art form to new levels, and algorithms and artificial intelligence have staked their claims as effective judges of proper product placement, not to mention logo placement. Web commerce depends more and more on hitting viewers with narrowly tailored ads, which is just a special, or localized, case of product placement. One London company places images of today’s products into streaming versions of decades-old films, which seems like a violation of the original on many levels but is apparently accepted. Only yesterday I read about cities in south Florida commissioning an Amazon Prime television series set there to encourage tourism — the region becomes the product, taking matters to the next level. As the robots take over and mulcting humans becomes ever simpler, we can expect more of this, not less.

It seems clear that product placement is effective because it is not a commercial. Seeing an actor sip a soda in a movie is more like getting a recommendation from someone you trust than sitting through an explicit pitch with your defenses up. A clumsy or ostentatious allusion to a brand doesn’t work; if audiences sense that the product has been dragged in for the sake of plugging it, they won’t react the same way. But if it seems like an integral part of the script, arising naturally from the story (wait, didn’t actresses used to say things like that when asked to do nude scenes?), millions of people take away a favorable message about the brand for relatively little effort and expense.

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tease

(1990’s | journalese (arts) | “(offer a) sneak preview,” “whet their appetites (for),” “hint (at),” “reveal OR announce (the existence of),” “tout”)

“Tease” has led a complicated life for some time; its newest definition (see below) follows from existing meanings and adds another layer to the complexity. The most common type of teasing when I was young — commenting ironically on another person’s shortcoming or oddity — could be kind or cruel, gentle or sadistic. The word itself didn’t differentiate. And “tease” occupied another Roget’s slot — not entirely unrelated but not a near neighbor, either — where the primary characteristic was deception. It was promising more than you intended to deliver, or toying with someone’s desires without fulfilling them. Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football formed the ultimate teasing triangle: one child taking advantage of another’s credulity and misplaced hope. Lucy was not just tormenting Charlie Brown but also exposing his weakness. The word went in different directions: cheerful ribbing or calculated meanness; or leading someone on then denying gratification.

Today’s meaning lies closer to the second idea, but the implications of deception and unsatisfactory results have (mostly) been removed. So has the idea that the object of teasing must be a living creature, human or animal. One teases — widely used as verb and noun, but it seems more novel as a verb — a forthcoming event, usually the release of a work of popular art such as a song, album, movie, or television series. It is normally done by someone involved in the project, if not the primary artist. The noun is simple: any acknowledgment of the work, or the act of acknowledging it, counts as a tease, whether it reveals anything or not. (In fact, a tease may reveal only that a project may or may not take place and act simply as a trial balloon.) The verb is more slippery, because it raises a question: Is the work being teased or the audience? In the most common construction, it’s the former: Billie Eilish teases a new song, or Ryan Coogler teases a new movie. They’re not interested in yanking the football away from their fans; they want to entice them. But even in the most innocent cases, a hint remains of playing on your audience’s wishes and getting their hopes up. Somewhere, somebody will be disappointed.

An obvious ancestor is the noun “teaser,” which goes back at least a century in the advertising biz and meant roughly what “tease” means now. That’s no doubt the closest relative, but the interplay sketched above is more interesting. One can find examples of today’s use of “tease” before 2000, but according to LexisNexis it didn’t really take off until after 2010. The new sense bobs up so often now that it seems to be in the process of supplanting the old meaning; when kids make fun of each other it’s called bullying whether intended to be hurtful or not. It’s hard to believe the old meaning will disappear; if it does, it will mark an important change in our understanding of human relations. We will have abandoned the old notions that teasing is good for kids because it thickens their skin or teaches them to handle unpleasant people. Not to mention the notion that a certain amount of chaff may be salutary, even enjoyable, for the recipient.

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gaslighting

(1990’s | “driving mad”)

In the annals of new expressions derived from movies, this one is extraordinary, with a lag time of over forty years; most film-born(e) locutions rise with the release of the film. Maybe it has always been around in conversation, but LexisNexis yielded only one instance before 1990. It started to appear more often after that, especially in the British and Commonwealth press; one source attributed it to a pair of English psychiatrists. It may be a pure Briticism, or it may just have taken root over there first. In its strictest sense, “gaslighting” denotes the act or process of deliberately manipulating conditions in a way that causes another person to doubt their own perception and ultimately, to think they are going crazy. The meaning is derived from the plot of a film released in 1944, titled “Gaslight” because one of the villain’s tricks was to fiddle with the gas valve and cause the lights to flicker inside the house, then lie to the victim by telling her she imagined the flickering. The word is used much more loosely now, but it can still convey deliberate deception in an effort to convince an adversary (often one’s significant other) that they’ve lost touch with reality. “To gaslight” does not seem to have made itself at home until after 2000. What is the past tense? “Gaslighted,” surely. Or do we just stick with the imperfect?

In politics, “gaslighting” is cruder, little more than a synonym for “deceiving” or “disinformation.” Usually, though, the implication remains that the gaslighter is telling you to disregard the plain evidence of your senses, or at least banking on your credulity. (Only one’s opponents commit gaslighting, never an ally.) In this sense it is related to “Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining,” now a popular objurgation. Every year political discourse becomes more brutal, and “gaslighting,” originally so refined that only Charles Boyer could pull it off, has unfortunately joined a long list of expressions used as grenades, intended to replace debate with annihilation. Unlike some of the others, this one merits the opprobrium. Gaslighting has always been devious and reprehensible. Even should the devious part crumble away, the reprehensible never will.

In relationships, the term goes to the opposite extreme. Gaslighting isn’t brazen; it’s covert, intended to cover up something so the need to deny it does not arise. That makes sense with reference to the original film; the villain did his dastardly deeds because he had a secret to conceal. In advice columns, it’s often cited as a method of distracting a partner from an illicit affair, for example. When you gaslight your spouse, you’re not so much trying to overwhelm their reason as keep them in the dark. Charles Boyer’s character was evil, but elegant. The eponym has lost its elegance, but the evil lingers on.

Thanks to my father for passing this word my way. It’s astonishing how many new expressions have made their mark in the last fifty years. It keeps Lex Maniac young.

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failure is not an option

(1980’s | “we have to get this right,” “we can’t afford to fail, lose, etc.,” “we have no choice”)

This expression remains forceful despite its evident falsehood. As long as Murphy’s Law holds sway, very few prospects are so free of defect that failure is impossible. “Failure is not an option” runs directly counter to that earliest of childhood maxims — everybody makes mistakes — which turns out to be one of the only reliable absolutes we have. If enough people screw up, any enterprise can misfire, and it usually takes only a small percentage of the personnel to bring on downfall. Of course, naïve logic is not all there is. The phrase is effective because it reminds everyone that we really might fall short, and we really, really don’t want to. That’s why the phrasing is crucial; if you say “there’s no way we can fail,” the staff will slack off.

The main thrust of the phrase is inspirational — a signal to all involved that they must exert every effort. The sports cliché “must-win game (or situation)” is quite similar. It’s also a bit like “you can do this” as we use it now, which has replaced “you can do it.” (It is more distantly related to “everything on the table.”) If the boss can convince you, or you can convince yourself, that no other outcome is tolerable, you will do what’s necessary to bring home the prize. The phrase may bear a hint of “no holds barred.” Sometimes it’s no more than false bravado. It would be interesting to figure out how many times a military campaign, business initiative, athletic team, or curriculum has failed after the brass said, “Failure is not an option.” If it’s intended as an incantation to ward off disaster, it doesn’t work a lot of the time.

This expression is one of a small number that have roared into popular consciousness from the movies: “Apollo 13” (1995), a fictionalized account of the safe landing of a badly damaged lunar capsule carrying three astronauts. According to Wikipedia, the exact phrase was invented in the nineties, derived from a longer utterance of a NASA flight controller named Jerry Bostick by screenwriter Bill Broyles, who knew a winner when he encountered it. That is not to say that the full phrase had never appeared before; I found examples as far back as the late eighties, but not very many. The film must take credit for popularizing if not introducing it. Bill Clinton soon picked it up; thereafter it became more common. It is still around today, beloved of all who would sound resolute. But there’s no getting around the fatuity (or futility, if you prefer) of the phrase understood literally. “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley,” said the poet, and sounding resolute doesn’t change that.

Lovely Liz from Queens scores again; she is by far the all-time leader in expressions nominated. Let’s not always see the same hands.

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This week I take up several expressions that were familiar and standard in my youth but have metamorphosed more or less subtly. Just a round-up of minor matters, none important enough for a full entry.

under my watch

“On my watch” has become “under my watch.” An old military expression meaning simply “while I’m guarding something,” so by extension, “while I’m in charge.” “Under” actually makes more sense, because the expression is used when still another preposition is in play — watch over. While you’re watching over something, anything that happens will be under your watch. With either preposition, there is a strong tendency to use the expression in the negative — that hasn’t changed.

quite the

“Quite a” has almost disappeared, replaced by “quite the.” Now why did this happen? In my youth, it was possible to say “quite the,” but you used it only on special occasions. “Quite a” already delivers a sense of the extraordinary, and “quite the” intensified it. It’s lost its force, demoted to the function “quite a” used to have, and in fact knocking the older expression out of play. You notice when you hear “quite a” now, because it’s become so unusual.

that being said

“That said” has been long available as a rhetorical flourish, a way of introducing a contrary notion, or of acknowledging an unpleasant truth. That part hasn’t changed. But it’s much more common now to see elaborations: “with that said,” “that being said” (probably the most common), and “all that said.” I say it doesn’t need them, that this is just mindless padding, illustrating the tendency of demotic language to absent-mindedly acquire extraneous syllables, words, or entire phrases, for no other reason than mass sloppiness.

 

Now for a change, let’s skim over a few verbs:

shined

“Shone,” the past tense of “shine” in the intransitive, is disappearing, replaced by “shined,” which has always been the preterite for the transitive. Don’t ask me why. Something similar happened generations ago to “dove,” which hasn’t disappeared but is largely supplanted by “dived.” In the old days, instead of regular and irregular verbs, we talked about weak and strong verbs. Weak verbs go along with the crowd and conjugate like everybody else; strong verbs go their own unpredictable way — though irregular verbs are only sometimes less predictable than regular.

grinded

“Grinded” now shows up often in the sports page as the past tense of “grind” (intransitive); the transitive (“ground,” as in coffee or a blade) will likely be conquered some day too. In fact, I think I’ve seen “grinded down,” as in an opponent. “Grind” is a term of praise in athletese, meaning something like “persist.” No need for appendages like “out” or “up.” The new preterite stands proud on its own.

refute

“Refute” has been disappearing for several years now. I don’t mean disappearing, I mean changing in a stupid way. Now it is often used to mean “deny,” rather than “disprove” or “rebut.” I don’t like it. It’s getting altogether too easy in our culture to gain large followings by pretending that facts aren’t real things that can bite you in the ass. Under the circumstances, we need words with more rigor, not less.

 

Now for the grand finale:

based off of

All it takes to widen the generation gap is a little preposition switch. “Based off of” started bobbing up in the first decade of the century (history here). Today even literate and well-educated kids say “based off of,” no matter how their parents chide them. And Lord knows we do. It just doesn’t make sense, kids. The whole point of a base is that something rests on (or in) it. If it’s off, then it’s not connected with, or relevant to, the base any more. And why two prepositions instead of simply “based off”? (You do hear “based off,” but to my ear “based off of” is more prevalent.) I still haven’t figured out how this mutation happened, but I got a glimmer when I noticed someone using “based out of” a city, instead of “based in.” Well, that rang a bell. Think back to 1960 or so. If someone told you he was “working out of” Phoenix, you would understand that, right? He’s based in Phoenix. Something similar may have happened with “based on.” “Bounced off of,” “jumped off of,” “played off of,” etc. Then “based” slides in there and it’s over before you know it.

More broadly, the exchange of “on” for “off” suggests that the new product is significantly different from the original, that it has gone off in a new direction or just gone beyond. A movie that is based off of a book has taken its source material and created something new out of it. “Off” represents a real change — a different understanding of the process of artistic creation. If it’s based on, it’s mired in the original. If it’s based off of, it has superseded it and become independent in some way. Another blogger made a similar point several years ago, but most observers give the young users of this expression little credit and much grief. I’m guilty myself, but maybe it’s time to let it go.

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help me out here

(1980’s | journalese (movies)? | “can you explain this to me?”)

This expression is somewhere between a command and a request, which may seem more paradoxical than it is. It is not intoned or phrased as a question, but it also falls short of a demand because of its lightweight character. Fundamentally, it means the same thing as “help me,” but sounds much less desperate, and it sounds more natural than “help me out” used as an imperative. For “help me out here” comes into its own when on its own. While it may be preceded by “can” or “would,” (but seldom “please”) to form a question, it loses some effect that way. Adding “here” adds emphasis but tempers it with casualness, putting the hearer at ease by assuring her that you’re not asking for anything too serious. Just a friendly request for assistance. The tone of voice has to be right — not too peremptory or pleading. We used to call out “little help” on the playground, as when the ball from your game rolled near someone else. It could be uttered with or without an interrogative rise — another expression that couldn’t decide whether it was a request or command.

“Help me out here” started to appear in LexisNexis in the 1980’s but didn’t hit its stride until shortly after 1990; the phrase started swirling thick and fast in the press around then. It probably passed its prime somewhere between 2000 and 2010, but still gets regular airings, no longer primarily among artists, athletes, and movie folk, but among those of all ages or stations. It was associated in its early days with talk show host Phil Donahue.

Phil was a good liberal who believed in working with his guests, and “help me out here” was a way to get past certain defenses. The expression aims ultimately at persuading someone else and has a sneaky Socratic quality. You don’t use it when you’re moving a sofa; you use it during a discussion to signal that the other person just failed to make sense and you are innocently seeking clarification. (The request might be directed at another panelist or even the audience, but it is aimed at your adversary.) Often the not-so-veiled implication is that the other debater is misguided or arguing in bad faith, but you don’t have to come right out and say so. This sort of use comes through most clearly when people are arguing about politics, but the same pattern appears in other fields as well.

Until I started thinking about this phrase, it never occurred to me that there is another place to break it: “help me / out here” (help ME, out HERE) which means “I am outside; please assist me.” I’ve always heard it as “help me out / here” (help me OUT, HERE) where “here” is tacked onto the end of the predicate. “Here” translates as “in this situation.” When you use it to denote a definite location, it sounds a little different. Take this utterance, from Boris Becker (May 25, 1993) talking about a new coach: “I’ve asked him to help me out here and at Wimbledon, and we’ll see how it goes.” The emphasis isn’t the same. “Here” takes much greater stress and loses any jocular quality.

“Help me out here” might be one of those set phrases that’s indistinguishable from ordinary language (see list under “how cool is that?“). But I don’t think it is, because of that pesky “here.” If you ask me, it’s descended from the old comedian’s lament, “I’m dying out here!,” and similar expressions. I just made that up, but doesn’t it sound plausible?

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drop

(2000’s | music industry | “release,” “come out”)

It is somewhat unusual for a new expression to act solely as a straightforward substitute for an old one; there is normally a semantic or grammatical distinction. In this case, it’s all in the grammar. “Drop an album” means exactly the same as “release an album.” But “the album dropped” doesn’t share that tidy equivalence, because “the album released” makes no sense, and “the album released itself,” while grammatically complete, doesn’t make any sense, either. Then again, I’ve never heard anyone refer to “the drop [of an album],” but you could use “release” in that slot as a noun. The music industry usage is transitive or intransitive, equally at home either way, with essentially the same meaning. Though “to drop” was often used, and still is, to suggest an accident, putting new work out there is a very deliberate process.

I found a couple of examples as early as 1999, and it may have been recording industry slang well before then. “Drop” can go with single songs as well as whole albums, movies or their trailers, and television shows (or a whole season of them). I haven’t seen it applied to books yet, but I don’t read Publisher’s Weekly. As far as I know it continues to attach itself only to creative projects, but it is broadening its field from recorded music to other media.

This is one of those expressions, like “roll with it,” for which one delights in trying to come with a definitive ancestor. It, too, has a rich array of objects, and some varied idiomatic uses: drop it, drop in, drop out, drop off, drop off to sleep, the penny dropped (“I figured it out”), at the drop of a hat, drop it like a hot potato (or rock), wait for the other shoe to drop, and even, for you antiquarians, you could hear a pin drop. The idioms are manifold, but none seems an obvious predecessor of the specialized usage. What about all the things you can drop? A hint, a name, a line, a sum of money (as in “I dropped $100 on this jacket”), the bomb, the ball, the mic, anchor, charges, acid, trou, the soap (how did those get in there?), and, finally, everything. But there’s a somewhat archaic phrase that I always think of when I hear this expression, and that is “drop a calf” (which doesn’t mean “have a cow,” o.k.?). When it comes to animal husbandry, dropping means giving birth. That’s the best analogue I can think of to the creative process that eventuates in Taylor Swift or Jay-Z bringing out a new single.

Another expression brought to the fore by lovely Liz from Queens, doing her bit for the lexicon. Thanks, baby!

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raptor

(1990’s | “dinosaur”)

At least a few of my readers are young and may not realize that for most of its life, “raptor” had nothing to do with dinosaurs. Nothing. It’s the first thing we think of now because of a certain film (recently sequelized for the fourth time), preceded by a certain book, that made the velociraptor, soon shortened for convenience to “raptor,” an unforgettable villain — even though the design of the velociraptors in the film was based on a different species of dinosaur, says Wikipedia. The original meaning of “raptor,” dating back to the seventeenth century, is “rapist” or “robber.” The word began flocking with predatory birds (not any other kind of animal, for some reason) in the second half of the nineteenth century, saith the OED. It appears under that definition in Webster’s Second (1934 edition), but not in any of my older dictionaries, although some related words do, like “raptorial” and “Raptores.” As late as 1980, it was not unusual for reporters to gloss the word when they used it, and I don’t remember learning it in school, though I may have. The classification encompassed majestic hawks and eagles and lowlier owls and vultures; now new family trees and relationships have been codified. “Raptor” has not surrendered its old meaning, so it applies now to both birds and dinosaurs with equal tenacity.

Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” was published in 1990, but the floodgates didn’t open until Spielberg’s film version opened in June 1993. Suddenly raptors were everywhere, not the old familiar birds of prey, but spiffy new animatronic dinosaurs instead! (As paleontologists love to remind us, birds and dinosaurs are closely related.) Now, Raptors are everywhere: an NBA team, a sub-model of Ford Ranger pickups, a fighter jet. My favorite: Raptor Eggs were a kind of candy created to coincide with the original film’s release, described by the Associated Press as “orange-flavored chewy eggs” (presumably merely egg-shaped, not actual eggs). I was too old to be paying attention to candy trends by then, but I’ll bet I’d remember them if I were twenty years younger.

While I’m slinging taxonomies around, “raptor” belongs to a select group: new expressions from movies. Over time, I have concluded that this category holds fewer members than most of us think; of the 450 or so expressions I have covered to date, only a few became widespread after being used in movies: “bucket list, “wingman,” “don’t go there,” “you’re toast,” “meltdown,” “perfect storm,” “-whisperer.” Like “raptor,” all were available before appearing in the film that made them famous.

The old words are the best words, to adapt an old proverb, and “raptor” is a fine example. In the last paragraph of the entry on “task,” I listed a number of expressions that had been around for a long time before bursting into recent prominence. A few expressions, such as “ramp up” and “overthink,” are as old or older, but none has quite the same evolutionary trail as “raptor,” which gained wings in the nineteenth century and then lost them again in the late twentieth, acquiring a new primary definition which later underwent a significant mutation. “Hurtful” and a few others had a long period of relative eclipse and emerged in the second half of the twentieth century as new words; “bloviate” all but disappeared in the mid-twentieth century but has come roaring back. “Raptor” never went away, but those old-time biologists would never have guessed that some day it would be in the mouth of every child, the coolest dinosaur of them all.

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