“Love is blind.”
“Heart of hearts.”
“Green eyed monster.”
“Break the ice.”
What in the world do any of these phrases have to do with the others? Well, if you’re familiar with the tales of Romeo and Juliet, Prince Hamlet, King Lear or Julius Caesar, you can probably guess.
All of these phrases, and many, many more, that are common in our everyday use are attributed to perhaps the most influential figure in the English language. That’s right, The Bard, William Shakespeare.
One of the highlights of my college career is that once I was able to quote a Saturday Night Live sketch in an academic paper. (It was the “Firelight” sketch, specifically, but darn WordPress won’t let me embed Hulu videos.)
The paper itself was about the way, over the last two hundred years, our culture has “dumbed down” the story and lesson of Frankenstein. This seems pretty relevant to the blog, so I thought I’d talk a bit about how the reverse of media-changing-language is sometimes true. The novel Frankenstein deals with some pretty weighty stuff — science vs. nature, unchecked ambition, revenge, isolation, the pros and cons of living in Switzerland — you know, serious matters. But, you wouldn’t know that based on the way we throw around the word “Frankenstein” in common conversation.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is something of an reference-generating machine. This piece of children’s literature and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass have been alluded to more often than can probably be accounted for in the hundred and fifty-odd years since its initial publication.
The story has been retold on film as Alice in Wonderland (with varying levels of faithfulness to the original novel) numerous times (including a great, recently restored version from 1903) and has also been alluded to in adaptations and has influenced television and music as well.
From an article about the film Sophie’s Choice by Eric D. Snider:
“Of all the thousands of films ever made, how many have titles that became common figures of speech? A handful, maybe? Sophie’s Choice is one of them, its title now shorthand for a seemingly impossible decision between two equally attractive options. (“My best friend is getting married at the same time that my favorite band is doing their farewell concert?! What a Sophie’s choice!”) Even people who haven’t seen the movie know what the expression means, a testament to the movie’s impact on pop culture.”
There’s a perfect example of this phrase being used, beginning at about 3:15 in this video from one of my favorite shows:
You’re probably at least somewhat familiar with a certain young wizard who goes by the name of Harry Potter, right? Of course you are! What, have you been living under a rock in the Chamber of Secrets?!
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The Harry Potter franchise has become one of the most successful literary (and film) series of all time in the course of the last decade-or-so, and along with that comes, of course, the adoption of phrases and terms from the media phenomenon into our vernacular.
Michael Scott, and Leslie Knope aren’t the only ones referencing the world of Harry Potter in his common conversation. It’s made its way into pop culture, but also into our own culture. Sure, you may not be throwing references to Hermione Granger into your casual chit chat, but I bet that if you heard someone say “Muggle,” you’d have a fair idea of what they meant.