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.
When words become commonplace enough, it’s easy to assume that they have always been used, or that they are some how intrinsically related to whatever they refer to, but in reality a lot of the terminology we use comes from literature. Case in point:
10 Words You Might Think Came from Science (But are Really from Science Fiction)
In addition to that set of words, according to the OED, the term “robot” was originally a “reference to the mass-produced workers in Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920) which are assembled from artificially synthesized organic material.”
After all, words don’t just appear out of thin air with a predefined meaning. Someone has to come up with them at some point.
Are there any words, expressions, or phrases that you’ve been surprised to discover come from a book, movie, play or poem? (And don’t worry, Shakespeare will get his own discussion.)