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11 Movie Titles That Became Part of the Lexicon

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Universal Pictures

It's no secret that our language patterns are influenced by the movies we watch (as you no doubt recall from the two-year period when people wouldn't stop talking like Borat). Movies are so influential, in fact, that a number of film titles have become part of the vocabulary even among people who haven't seen the movies in question. Some of these terms didn't exist until the movies created them; others were already in the language but were popularized or got new definitions as film titles. In some cases, the movies themselves are unremarkable or forgotten, yet they live on in our daily conversations.

1. Sophie's Choice (1982)

Even if you haven't seen the film that won Meryl Streep her first Best Actress Oscar, you probably know that a "Sophie's choice" is when you must choose between two equally desirable—or undesirable—options. (Though the movie is based on a very successful book, released in 1979, it was the film that propelled the term.) The term has a listing at Urban Dictionary, has made its way into medical literature, and is also, perhaps ill-advisedly, the name of several restaurants and shops. Now, really, to be a true Sophie's choice, the options must be mutually exclusive—choosing one means you can never have the other one, not just that it's postponed. So unless those boutiques are burning the clothes you don't buy today, they're not really offering "Sophie's choices."

2. Fatal Attraction (1987)

The phrase "fatal attraction" has been around for a while, generally with the self-evident meaning of being drawn to something that's bad for you. (From a 1952 Popular Science article: "Because water sometimes has a fatal attraction for children, James H. Robertson of North Hollywood, Calif., worried about unguarded swimming pools.") The film gave the term a very specific meaning; "fatal attraction" became shorthand for a romantic relationship that's physically dangerous.

3. Bucket List (2007)

"Bucket list" was a computing term long before the advent of the Morgan Freeman/Jack Nicholson film that your parents loved, but that's coincidental. The way we use the phrase now—to mean the list of things you want to do before you "kick the bucket"—comes straight from Justin Zackham's screenplay. (A Slate writer also found it in a 2004 novel; it's entirely possible that the novelist and Zackham came up with it independently of one another, or that one or both of them heard it somewhere and picked it up. At any rate, it clearly wasn't the novel that popularized the term.) "Bucket list" is canonized in the dictionary now (the ultimate achievement for a neologism), and is the basis for numerous websites devoted to helping people compile their own lists.

4. The Full Monty (1997)

This British expression of unknown origin (there are theories) has been around since the early 1980s, and means "the whole thing; everything." As with several of our other examples, the 1997 movie gave it a new, more specific definition: strippin' till you're nude. Four years later, "full monty" appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary with both definitions, usage having been boosted by the popular film. The nudity-oriented meaning is common in cheeky news headlines now: "Megan Rapinoe goes the full monty for the ESPN Body Issue," or "[Retired swimmer Michael] Klim goes the full monty."

5. Gaslight (1944)

Gaslight - verb (used with object): to cause (a person) to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation.

This fantastic verb isn't used much anymore, but it's been in dictionaries for decades. The source is a George Cukor-directed thriller starring Ingrid Bergman as a woman whose husband tells her she's imagining things that she claims to see in a musty old murder house, including the gaslights dimming by themselves. The movie was based on a 1938 play that had already been filmed once before (in 1940), but dictionaries cite the more famous 1944 incarnation as the inspiration for the verb "to gaslight." It's a useful word, especially when you consider how frequently gaslighting shows up as a plot device in fiction. (The title character of NBC's Hannibal is an expert gaslighter.)

6. Catfish (2010)

Sixty-six years after Gaslight came another useful word for a kind of deception, one that's unique to the 21st century. (Interestingly, "gaslight" and "catfish" were both nouns that got turned into verbs, too.) To "catfish" someone is to mislead them online by pretending to be someone or something you're not. It comes from a 2010 documentary about a New York photographer who discovers that the Michigan woman he's Facebook friends with has lied about, well, nearly everything. The film made only a medium-sized splash in the documentary world, but its title came to prominence in early 2013, when Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o's tragically deceased Internet girlfriend turned out not to have been real in the first place—a textbook example of catfishing. In a fortuitous coincidence, a Catfish series had debuted on MTV a few weeks before the Manti Te'o story broke, so the word was fresh in people's minds. News media picked it up immediately, using it in story after story after story.

7. Indecent Proposal (1993)

Before Robert Redford offered Woody Harrelson a million dollars to sleep with Demi Moore, "indecent proposal" showed up occasionally in court documents and case files as a legalese euphemism for any sort of obscene suggestion allegedly made by a defendant. (From a 1955 court martial: "Shortly thereafter another German and his female friend were stopped on the street by L. When his indecent proposal was again refused, L. struck the German in the head.") After the movie, though, enhanced by its new, specific definition (offering someone money to sleep with his wife), "indecent proposal" found its way into the mainstream. More than 20 years later, it still pops up in news stories, like this one about a London politician who tried to woo the opposing party by offering taxpayer-funded perks.

8. Thelma and Louise (1991)

Ridley Scott's bombastic feminist road-trip movie has become surprisingly useful shorthand for a number of things. It can refer to female friendship, as in the online travel community for women that's named after it, or the New York catering company actually headed by two women named Karen and Sandy. It can also mean (spoiler alert) a go-for-broke gambit that one assumes is a suicide mission, as in this rather frothy assertion that Obama is "going Thelma and Louise" in the last days of his presidency, or this Democratic analyst's opinion that trying to impeach Obama would be "the GOP 'Thelma and Louise' approach: Let's get in the car and drive off the cliff." And what do you know, it can also refer to women on a crime spree: "In their new video for 'Somethin' Bad,' [Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood] channel their inner Thelma and Louise robbing banks, stealing jewelry, and cheating several men out of millions." It's in the Urban Dictionary too, of course.

9. Groundhog Day (1993)

Until 1993, the phrase "Groundhog Day" meant February 2, the weird quasi-holiday where a woodchuck in Pennsylvania looks at his shadow to predict the future. To the extent that anyone said the words "Groundhog Day" at all, that's what they were talking about. But the movie changed all that. The story of a man who keeps reliving the same day over and over again gave rise to "groundhog day" as slang for any repetitive situation, especially one that you feel trapped in. From a recent New York Times Magazine story about Texas Gov. Rick Perry's humorous efforts to be self-deprecating about his disastrous 2012 presidential campaign: "Even so, Perry is a figure of substantial ego and pride, and it clearly bothers him to be trapped in such a humiliating 'Groundhog Day.'" Or here's The Atlantic on the sluggish economy: "The past five years have been a Groundhog Day recovery. Every day, we wake up hoping that this will be the day that the economy finally picks up. And every day, we wake up to ... find out that it hasn't." Sadly, the most common usage seems to be in stories about the never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East, which evoke the metaphor regularly.

10. You Got Served (2004)

The energetic dance-battle movie kickstarted a new cycle of films about street dancing, including the Step Ups and Stomp the Yard, and those probably helped bring about TV contests like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars. That's a powerful reach for a movie that only made $48 million worldwide. Even more notable is that the title entered the lexicon as an all-purpose declaration of triumph over one's opponents. Though it was mostly young city kids who said it, the term amusingly crossed over into the mainstream when adults started using it as a "hip" slang term for serving a subpoena. Witness this headline about a hypothetical lawsuit against House Republicans, or this one about filing suits against the United Nations.

11. Star Wars (1977)

This one had a short but vital lifespan in the American vernacular. In 1983, looking for a way to win the Cold War and assure victory in the event of a hot one, President Ronald Reagan announced a new defense system that he was very keen on, the basic idea of which was that we'd have stuff in space that would intercept Soviet missiles before they got to us. It was officially called the Strategic Defense Initiative, but critics who believed the plan to be impractical, if not impossible, called it "Star Wars." Yes, the title of the most beloved and influential film of its generation was used mockingly. It began with Sen. Ted Kennedy, who dismissed Reagan's proposals as "reckless Star Wars schemes" to The Washington Post, and the nickname caught on immediately. (It helped that Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech just two weeks earlier had already put pundits in a Star Wars kind of mood.) The defense program evolved, the Cold War ended, and the "Star Wars" designation faded over time. The movies are still a concern, obviously (have you been on the Internet today?), but to a certain generation of Americans, the title will always have an '80s-flavored second meaning.

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What's the Longest Word in the World? Here are 12 of Them, By Category
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Rebecca O'Connell

Antidisestablishmentarianism, everyone’s favorite agglutinative, entered the pop culture lexicon on August 17, 1955, when Gloria Lockerman, a 12-year-old girl from Baltimore, correctly spelled it on The $64,000 Question as millions of people watched from their living rooms. At 28 letters, the word—which is defined as a 19th-century British political movement that opposes proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England—is still regarded as the longest non-medical, non-coined, nontechnical word in the English language, yet it keeps some robust company. Here are some examples of the longest words by category.

1. METHIONYLTHREONYLTHREONYGLUTAMINYLARGINYL … ISOLEUCINE 

Note the ellipses. All told, the full chemical name for the human protein titin is 189,819 letters, and takes about three-and-a-half hours to pronounce. The problem with including chemical names is that there’s essentially no limit to how long they can be. For example, naming a single strand of DNA, with its millions and millions of repeating base pairs, could eventually tab out at well over 1 billion letters.

2. LOPADOTEMACHOSELACHOGALEOKRANIOLEIPSAN …P TERYGON

The longest word ever to appear in literature comes from Aristophanes’ play, Assemblywomen, published in 391 BC. The Greek word tallies 171 letters, but translates to 183 in English. This mouthful refers to a fictional fricassee comprised of rotted dogfish head, wrasse, wood pigeon, and the roasted head of a dabchick, among other culinary morsels. 

3. PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICOVOLCANOCONIOSIS

At 45 letters, this is the longest word you’ll find in a major dictionary. An inflated version of silicosis, this is the full scientific name for a disease that causes inflammation in the lungs owing to the inhalation of very fine silica dust. Despite its inclusion in the dictionary, it’s generally considered superfluous, having been coined simply to claim the title of the longest English word.

4. PARASTRATIOSPHECOMYIA STRATIOSPHECOMYIOIDES 

The longest accepted binomial construction, at 42 letters, is a species of soldier fly native to Thailand. With a lifespan of five to eight days, it’s unlikely one has ever survived long enough to hear it pronounced correctly.

5. PSEUDOPSEUDOHYPOPARATHYROIDISM

This 30-letter thyroid disorder is the longest non-coined word to appear in a major dictionary.

6. FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION

By virtue of having one more letter than antidisestablishmentarianism, this is the longest non-technical English word. A mash-up of five Latin roots, it refers to the act of describing something as having little or no value. While it made the cut in the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster volumes refuse to recognize it, chalking up its existence to little more than linguistic ephemera.

7. SUBDERMATOGLYPHIC

At 17 characters, this is the longest accepted isogram, a word in which every letter is used only once, and refers to the underlying dermal matrix that determines the pattern formed by the whorls, arches, and ridges of our fingerprints. 

8. SQUIRRELLED

Though the more commonly accepted American English version carries only one L, both Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries recognize this alternate spelling and condone its one syllable pronunciation (think “world”), making it the longest non-coined monosyllabic English word at 11 letters.

9. ABSTENTIOUS

One who doesn’t indulge in excesses, especially food and drink; at 11 letters this is the longest word to use all five vowels in order exactly once.

10. ROTAVATOR 

A type of soil tiller, the longest non-coined palindromic word included in an English dictionary tallies nine letters. Detartrated, 11 letters, appears in some chemical glossaries, but is generally considered too arcane to qualify.

11. and 12. CWTCH, EUOUAE

The longest words to appear in a major dictionary comprised entirely of either vowels or consonants. A Cwtch, or crwth, is from the Welsh word for a hiding place. Euouae, a medieval musical term, is technically a mnemonic, but has been accepted as a word in itself. 

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12 Things Called ‘French’ In English and Whether They're Actually French
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Happy Bastille Day! To celebrate this French holiday, let’s take a look at some of the things we call "French" in English that may not be French at all.

1. FRENCH TOAST

They don’t eat French toast in France. There, it’s called pain perdu ("lost bread," because it’s what you do with stale bread) or pain doré (golden bread). In the 17th century French toast was a term used for any kind of bread soaked and then griddled: In a 1660 citation, it refers to bread soaked in wine with sugar and orange and then cooked.

2. FRENCH VANILLA

Vanilla is a bean from a tropical plant not grown in France, so what’s so French about French vanilla? French vanilla was originally not a term for a type of vanilla, but a type of vanilla ice cream, one made using a French technique with an eggy, custard base. It’s since detached from ice cream and become a flavor with a certain rich profile.

3. FRENCH DRESSING

Originally the phrase French dressing referred to the type of dressing people might actually eat in France: oil, vinegar, herbs, maybe a little mustard. But somehow during the early 20th century it came to be the name for a pinkish-red, ketchup-added version that’s totally American.

4. FRENCH PRESS

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In France, the French press coffeemaker, a pot for steeping coffee grounds with a plunger for filtering them out, is called a cafetière à piston or just a bodum after the most common brand. It may have been invented in France, but the first patent for one was taken out by an Italian in 1929. The style of coffee became popular in France in the 1950s, and was later referred to by American journalists as "French-press style coffee."

5. FRENCH KISS

The term French kiss, for kissing with tongue, came into English during World War I when soldiers brought the phrase—and perhaps the kissing style—back from the war with them. French had long been used as a common adjective for various naughty, sexually explicit things like French letters (condoms), French postcards (naked pictures), and French pox (VD). In French, to kiss with the tongue is rouler un patin, “roll a skate” (having to do with gliding?), but in Québec they do say frencher.

6. FRENCH HORN

In French, a French horn is a cor d’harmonie or just cor, a name given to the looping, tubed hunting horns that were made in France in the 17th century. French became to the way to distinguish it from other horn types, like the German or Viennese horn, which had different types of tubes and valves.

7. FRENCH FRIES

The phrase French fries evolved in North America at the end of the 19th century out of the longer “French fried potatoes.” The dish is said to be more properly Belgian than French, but it was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson after he brought a recipe back from France. In French they are simply pommes frites, fried potatoes.

8. FRENCH MANICURE

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The French manicure, a pinkish, nude nail with a bright, whitened tip, was apparently invented in Hollywood in the 1970s. It began to be called a French manicure after the look made it to fashion runways. The style isn’t as popular in France, but women there do tend toward a groomed look with a natural color. In France, the term has been borrowed in from English: It's called la French manucure.

9. FRENCH BRAID

The term French braid (or French plait in British English) has been around since the 1870s, but the braid style itself, where hair is gathered gradually from the sides of the head over the course of braiding, has been around for thousands of years, according to archeological artifacts. It may have become associated with France simply for being seen as high fashion and French being equated with stylishness. In French, they also call this specific style of braid a French braid, or tresse française.

10. FRENCH TWIST

The vertically rolled and tucked French twist hairdo also came to be in the 19th century, and was also associated with French high fashion. In French it is called a chignon banane for its long, vertical shape.

11. FRENCH MAID

Housemaids in 19th-century France did wear black and white uniforms—though they were not quite as skimpy as the French maid costumes you see today. The French maid became a trope comic character in theater and opera, and the costume, along with other titillating characteristics, came to define what we now think of as the classic French maid.

12. FRENCH BREAD

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These days French bread has come to stand for any white bread with a vaguely baguette-like shape, whether or not it has a traditional, crusty exterior. It has been used as a term in English as far back as the 15th century to distinguish it from other, coarser types of bread.

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