10 Words and Phrases That Came From TV Shows

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock.
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock.

Television can be a hotbed of creativity (or mediocrity, depending on who you ask). But it's not just characters and storylines writers are coming up with—they also coin words. Here are 10 surprising words that were invented thanks to TV.

1. POINDEXTER

While this term for a studious nerd might seem very 1980s, it actually comes from a cartoon character introduced on TV in 1959. In the series Felix the Cat, Poindexter is the feline’s bespectacled, genius nephew, supposedly named for Emmet Poindexter, the series creator’s lawyer.

2. EYE CANDY

This phrase meaning any thing or person that offers visual appeal but not much substance originally referred to such a feature of a TV program. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), it first appeared in 1978 issue of a Louisiana newspaper called The Hammond Daily Star: “Sex … is more blatant ... ‘Eye candy,' as one network executive calls it.” Ear candy is slightly earlier, from the title of a 1977 album by Helen Reddy, while arm candy is later, from 1992.

3. RIBBIT

Think frogs have always been known to say “ribbit”? Think again: According to the OED, this onomatopoeia might have originated on a TV show in the late-1960s. While we can’t say for sure that absolutely no one was making this frog sound before then, the earliest recorded usage found so far (according to linguist Ben Zimmer) is from a 1965 episode of Gilligan’s Island, in which Mel Blanc voiced a character called Ribbit the Frog. This predates the OED’s earliest entry, which is from a 1968 episode of the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour: “That’s right. Ribit! .. I am a frog.”

4. SORRY ABOUT THAT

You've probably used this expression of regret more than once in your life, but did you know it was popularized by Get Smart? It's one of the many catchphrases from the late 1960s TV show. Others include “missed it by that much” and “the old (so-and-so) trick.”

5. CROMULENT

Cromulent is a perfectly cromulent word, as far as the OED is concerned. This adjective invented on The Simpsons means “acceptable, adequate, satisfactory.” Other OED words the denizens of Springfield popularized are meh (perhaps influenced by the Yiddish “me,” meaning “be it as it may, so-so,” from 1928 or earlier), d’oh (the earliest recorded usage is from a 1945 British radio show), and embiggen, which first appeared in an 1884 publication by English publisher George Bell: “Are there not, however, barbarous verbs in all languages? … The people magnified them, to make great or embiggen, if we may invent an English parallel as ugly.”

6. FIVE-O

The OED’s earliest citation of this slang term for the police is from a 1983 article in The New York Times, although it was probably in use long before that. The moniker comes from Hawaii Five-O, which premiered in 1968. In the show, five-o refers to a particular police unit and apparently was named in honor of Hawaii being the 50th state.

7. GOMER

While the word gomer has been around since the year 1000 (referring to a Hebrew unit of measure), the sense of someone stupid or inept comes from the inept titular character in the 1960s show Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. It’s also a derogatory name among medical professionals for a difficult patient, especially an elderly one.

8. COWABUNGA

Sure, the 1960s surfing slang might have regained popularity in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s due to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series, but it originated way before then. Chief Thunderthud, a character on the 1950s children’s show Howdy Doody would use it as faux Native American language. After that, it somehow made its way into surfer slang, hence becoming a catchphrase of Michelangelo, the hard-partying, surfing ninja turtle.

9. HAR DE HAR

The next time you want to laugh in a sarcastic, old-timey way, thank Jackie Gleason for popularizing har de har via his iconic 1950s show, The Honeymooners.

10. SPAM

So how in the world did spam, originally the name of a canned ham, come to mean junk email or to inundate with junk emails or postings? Chalk it up to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The food Spam (which stands for either “spiced ham” or “shoulder of pork and ham”) was invented during the Great Depression in the late 1930s. Fast forward 40-some-odd years and the British sketch comics were singing incessantly about it. This apparently was the inspiration for the computer slang that came about in the early 1990s.

If You Want to Be a More Effective Writer, Stop Using Utilize and These Other 12 Words

iStock.com/Nattakorn Maneerat
iStock.com/Nattakorn Maneerat

If you want to become a better writer, it can be hard to know where to start. The good news is that you don't need to pad your vocabulary with $10 words to develop effective writing techniques. According to Lifehacker, an easy way to improve your writing is by replacing big, fancy words with language used in everyday conversations.

New York Times editor Dan Saltzstein recently tweeted some examples of words writers use to make their work sound more intelligent than it really is. Words like shuttered, commence, and utilize may look impressive on the page, but the extra syllables add nothing to your point. To make your writing sound more like your natural voice and less like a business email, Saltzstein recommends swapping in closed, begin, and use for the terms above.

You can also use this guideline to edit words out of your writing completely. Leading words like so, mostly, and oftentimes aren't always necessary and can be cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. When you're scanning a piece for leading words, also keep an eye out for adverbs. Its tempting to tack words like violently, quickly, or loudly behind your action words, but too many adverbs can weaken your writing. Wherever you use a verb and an adverb together, see if you can replace the phrase with a single, more specific verb (like shouted instead of said loudly).

Here are some words to upgrade the next time you're writing or editing.

1. Closed > shuttered
2. Begin > commence
3. Open > launch
4. Use > utilize
5. Let > enable
6. Many > myriad
7. Live > reside
8. Planned > preplanned
9. Before > prior to
10. Tiptoe > walk softly
11. Whisper > speak quietly
12. Need > want badly
13. Shout > say loudly

[h/t Lifehacker]

11 Suffixes That Gave Us New, Often Terrible Words

An American 'Bookmobile' mobile library circa 1955
An American 'Bookmobile' mobile library circa 1955
Vecchio/Three Lions/Getty Images

People love coining new words. And they love making good use of them—for a while anyway. Bromance, adultescence, and Frankenstorm are just a few of the creative blends that have recently made it big but probably won't stick around.

Sometimes, however, a coinage is so apt and useful that it does stick. When that happens, we sometimes get more than just one new word; we get a new kind of word ending, one that goes on to a long, productive career in word formation. Bookmobile was born in the 1920s and went on to spawn the likes of bloodmobile, Wienermobile, and pimpmobile. Workaholic is a creation of the 1940s that led to everything from chocoholic to sleepaholic to Tweetaholic. But not all of these creative endings have staying power. We don't hear much today from the bootlegger-inspired "-leggers" of the 1940s—the foodleggers, gasleggers, tireleggers, and meatleggers who were circumventing the law to deal in valuable rationed goods.

Here are 11 other word endings that have become productive to varying degrees. You can probably think of a lot more to add to this list. Will they stand the test of time?

1. -nomics

With its origins in the staid and straightforward Nixonomics and Reaganomics, this one has rather promiscuously attached itself to almost everything: burgernomics, beeronomics, sexonomics and so on. All the better for its reproductive advantage—elementary survivalnomics!

2. -athon

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this one was "barbarously extracted" from marathon back in the 1930s, and it's proved its staying power since. Whether for a good cause or for no cause at all, our telethons, danceathons, bakeathons, drinkathons, complainathons and assorted other verbathons have made this past century something of an athonathon.

3. -gate

This mark of scandal became productive almost immediately after the break-in at the Watergate office complex was uncovered in the early '70s. Anywhere there's a lie, an impropriety, or a cover-up, -gate will find a foothold. It has even spread to other languages: see toallagate ("towelgate"), a term coined after the Mexican government was revealed to have purchased $400 towels for the presidential residences. (There's even a whole Wikipedia page devoted to –gate scandals.)

4. -splaining

Mansplaining, nerdsplaining, vegansplaining, catsplaining—seems like everybody's got some 'splaining to do these days.

5. -cation

It started with the staycation in the 1940s. Soon –cation no longer cared to preserve the rhyme with vacation, and it roamed free among our leisure pursuits: foodcation, golfcation, shopcation, sleepcation. It can also refer to a break from work. Did you enjoy a recent stormcation? Are you hoping for a few days of snowcation this winter? Or will that make you long for a kidcation?

6. -tainment

Edutainment, watertainment, agritainment, newstainment—why be boring when you can wordertain?

7. -itude

You better check your momitude, geekitude, dudeitude, snarkitude, drunkitude or New Yorkitude. And if it works for you, wear it with prideitude!

8. -tastic

It's cheesetastic! It's craft-tastic! It's awesometastic! Almost anything can be made fantastic with this ending. It can even bring out the unrecognized positive qualities of that which is grosstastic, sadtastic, or craptastic. Beware the –tastic meaning drift, however. Craptastic wavers between "so crappy it's great" and just "super crappy."

9. -licious

Babelicious, bootylicious, funalicious, partylicious, biblicious, yogalicious, mathalicious—if you like it, celebrate it with a –licious!

10. -pocalypse

Snowpocalypse! Heatpocalypse! Will the world end in firepocalypse or icepocalypse? This one seems to have begun in the domain of weather reports, but hysterical exaggeration has proved useful elsewhere. Have you not heard Rush Limbaugh's warning of Barackalypse? The e-reader's bringing of the bookpocalypse? See also: wordmageddon.

11. -gasm

This new word ending offers the … um … ultimate in excitement. Eargasm, joygasm, sportsgasm, teagasm, soupgasm, stylegasm, and yes, ectoplasmgasm.

A version of this story first ran in 2012.

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