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Creating a catchphrase. October 12, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben noticed that today, three people had come on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, with the search-engine term (as WordPress calls it) “creating a catchphrase.” (WordPress, we love you, but please bear in mind that “term” is a single word, “phrase” more than one word.  In terms of catchphrases —if you’ll pardon the pun—Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!” would be a term, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be baaaack!” and Monty Python’s “It’s just resting,” from the famous Dead Parrot Sketch, are phrases.)

What is a catchphrase, anyway? To quote Wikipedia: “A catchphrase is a phrase or expression recognized by its repeated utterance. Such phrases often originate in popular culture or the arts, and typically spread through a variety of mass media (such as literature and publishing, motion pictures, television and radio), as well as word of mouth. Some catchphrases become the de facto ‘trademark’ of the person or character with whom they originated…”

Mr. Spock’s “Live long and prosper,” and “Beam me up, Scotty!” from the original “Star Trek” series, as well as Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s “Make it so” from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” are catchphrases. So are James Bond’s “The name’s Bond. James Bond” and “shaken, not stirred.” Yoda’s “Do or do not… there is no ‘try'” is a catchprhase, as is Dracula’s “I don’t drink…wine,” Seinfeld’s “Yadda yadda yadda,” and commercials’ enduring “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” and “Where’s the beef?!” 

Our friend Ben’s favorite catchphrase is from that Western classic, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” when a thug is terrorizing Eli Wallach (“the ugly”) while he’s in a public bath. The guy drones on and on (and on) about how long he’s been waiting for this moment. etc.etc. Eventually, Eli Wallach pulls a gun out of the bubble bath, shoots the guy, and blandly remarks, “If you’re gonna shoot, shoot, don’t talk.” Words to live by!

Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we have dozens of catchphrases to choose from, courtesy of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. Whether your favorite Ben quote is “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” or “There never was a bad peace or a good war” or “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” old Ben had a bon mot for every occasion, and his sayings have stood the test of time.

If he could give you some timely advice for creating your own catchphrase, I think Dr. Franklin would say this:

  • Keep it simple and memorable. If people can’t remember or understand your slogan, they won’t repeat it. “Better dead than Red” captures anti-Communist opposition memorably, as opposed to something like “I’m concerned that Communist regimes are opposing individuality and human rights, and I plan to oppose them.”
  • Make people think, then make them remember. “Three men can keep a secret if two of them are dead” is a quote few of us are likely to forget. The drama Dr. Franklin put into this quote fixes it in our minds far more forcibly than “Most people can’t keep secrets; you shouldn’t trust them.”
  • Bring everyone into the now. Telling people to live in the moment is all good and well, but giving them a catchphrase like “Be Here Now” can help them far more than providing a treatise on mindful living that requires a doctorate to comprehend. Ben Franklin believed in keeping it simple; so should we. 
  • Remind people that now is all there is. So much of human energy is spent on regretting the past and hoping for the future, yet our only reality is now, this moment.This isn’t an esoteric concept, it’s just the simple truth: Now is all we have, all our time is now, all the time we’ll ever have is now, so make the most of it. Dance now, sing now, paint now, learn a new language now, write now, play now, cook now, visit now. Later may never be an option.

So, what’s your catchphrase? Think on this and let us know!

Comments»

1. mr_subjunctive - October 12, 2011

I was a little thrown by your understanding of the term “term,” so I checked it out in the online dictionaries I could easily locate, and they mostly side with WordPress.

The Free Dictionary:

4.
a. A word or group of words having a particular meaning: had to explain the term gridlock.
b. terms Language of a certain kind; chosen words: spoke in rather vague terms; praised him in glowing terms.

Dictionary.reference.com:

1.
a word or group of words designating something, especially in a particular field, as atom in physics, quietism in theology, adze in carpentry, or district leader in politics.
2.
any word or group of words considered as a member of a construction or utterance.

Dictionary.cambridge.org:

a word or phrase used in relation to a particular subject: Erikson is said to have coined the term “identity crisis.”

The lone holdout was Merriam-Webster.com, which refuses to say “word or group of words,” but does say “a word or expression,” so they have their own understanding of “term,” I guess.

So now I’m wondering where you got your interpretation in the first place.

As for catchphrases, I don’t seem to be particularly good at creating them, but I haven’t really been trying that hard either. “Vermiculite is magic” is probably my most sincere attempt, but I don’t get that many chances to use it, because vermiculite is pretty much only useful for one thing (rooting cuttings / starting seeds), so I don’t think it’s going to take off.

Gee, Mr. S., I don’t know whether to thank you or cry. I guess it’s not the dictionaries’ fault that they’re doing their job, which is to record contemporary usage, but as my etymology professor was fond of saying, our language use is “rapidly being reduced to the monosyllabic grunt.” D’oh! Love “vermiculite is magic,” naturally. I’ll have to try to come up with one myself. I suspect “If our friend Ben won a MacArthur award, THAT would be magic” is a little too long… Anyway, thanks for your trademark excellent research here!

mr_subjunctive - October 15, 2011

It’s not that contemporary — I checked my dictionary at home, which is (c) 1990, and it includes the “word or expression” phrasing. So it’s been like this for at least twenty years.

It’s also occurred to me that for a search engine, the meaning that applies might be the one from the field of logic:

9. Logic .
a. the subject or predicate of a categorical proposition.
b. the word or expression denoting the subject or predicate of a categorical proposition. (from Dictionary.reference.com)

It’d be sort of roundabout, but the meaning from logic and philosophy would carry over into computer programming, and then from computer programming perhaps into more general usage. Since from the perspective of WordPress, input for the search engine is a logical term which has to be compared against other information and checked to see whether it’s equal or similar, which are logical operations, “term” might be correct in the WordPress case even if the definition as a word or group of words with a specific meaning didn’t apply.

I know, I know, computers ruin everything.


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