CLOSE

Attack of the pop culture references

At some point in the mid-nineties, I noticed it. In everything from TV shows to music and movies, pop culture seemed to be folding in on itself; more and more referring only to other TV shows, music and movies. Rather than a dialogue, it seemed like mass media had been busy transforming itself into an echo chamber, culminating with phenomena like I Love the 80s (literally 100% pop culture references), bands like The Darkness and Chromeo who trade on sending up the musical cliches of the past and tee-shirt based attempts at humor that consist of nothing more than a silhouette of Fat Albert. (Which isn't to say that Chromeo doesn't rock my booty; they do.)

I'm not immune from pop culture reference disease, of course -- heck, my "Attack of the Parasites" video for mental_floss is constructed entirely of Mystery Science Theater-worthy clips from old movies -- but more and more it seems like artists who are really trying to say something new and profound are being hampered by their dependence on -- nay, addiction to -- pop culture. Take the new Richard Kelly film Southland Tales, for instance. I won't ruin it for you if you haven't seen it, but it's a story that purports to take on such heady subject matter as the breakdown of modern society and the end of the world, and yet it's so hyper-concerned with making too-cool in-crowd pop references with everything from its casting (why else would you cast Kevin Smith, The Rock and John Larroquette?) to its soundtrack (Blur, the Pixies, Radiohead) and even its tagline ("This is the way the world ends ...") that the film never ends up making enough sense to make a point at all!

Whew. (Rant over!) For the record, I loved Kelly's previous film, Donnie Darko -- also full of pop culture references -- so no harm, no foul. I suppose what I'm getting at is that pop culture references certainly have their place, but they often become a substitute for actual (or at least original) communication. It peeved me so much that a few years ago I wrote a bizarre little comedy sketch called "Pop Culture Reference," and this is it:

What pop culture references get under your skin?

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
language
How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
iStock
iStock

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
TAKWest, Youtube
arrow
entertainment
Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios