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12 Head-Scratching Terms Heard on Film Sets

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With countless websites dedicated to movie trivia, DVD special features offering behind-the-scenes looks, and even photos “leaked” by the stars themselves on social media, the once-mystifying inner-workings of Hollywood, and its movie magic, have become increasingly transparent over the last couple of decades. Having said that, step onto a working film set and you’ll soon realize that you are indeed in another world—one full of protocols, job titles, and lingo that can elude even the most seasoned cineaste. Below are 12 head-scratching terms that are frequently heard on film sets.

1. C-47

The C-47 is a versatile tool found on every film set. Its most frequent use is helping secure colored gels or diffusion onto the fronts of lights. Its non-Hollywood name? The clothespin. Although there is no definitive answer as to how the clothespin came to be known as the C-47, several theories persist: an homage to the C-47 transportation plane utilized during WWII, a reference to an early patent number for clothespins, and even a storage method at an old film studio (which supposedly kept clothespins shelved in row C, slot 47). But the most commonly shared story is that in the early days of filmmaking, executives would regularly rebuke a lighting team for including a budget for clothespins, as they didn’t want to front money for such an everyday item. But those same executives gladly accepted the modified expense reports, which instead included requests for the mysterious—yet highly technical-sounding—C-47.

2. STINGER

Nothing sets the amateurs apart from the professionals on a set faster than those individuals who ask for extension cords, which are referred to as “stingers.” The stinger likely received its Hollywood name early on when it was realized that if there was a malfunction, the electrical shock would, well, sting.

3. GREEK

The phrase “It’s all Greek to me” serves as the basis for the name of an important process that happens before shooting begins: “Greeking” is the art department's process of removing branding from any products that will be appearing on screen, but where the company hasn’t paid for product placement. It can be as simple as placing a piece of black tape over part of the product’s name, thus allowing the prop to be used without being a direct representation or promotion of the product itself. If you look carefully, you might find some of your favorite TV characters using “ial” soap, eating their favorite “eerios” cereal, or using laptops with stickers conveniently placed over recognizable logos.

4. PANCAKE

Although most crew members wish it did, a request for a “pancake” does not bring a syrup-doused breakfast treat to the set. A pancake is the nickname given to the smallest and thinnest box in the apple box family. Typically a one-inch thick piece of wood, it boasts an endless variety of uses including the leveling of stands, protecting electrical cables from damp ground, and even boosting an actor’s height (although the bigger apple boxes are more common for this).

5. STICKS

The director of photography might announce that the next shot will be on “sticks,” which is another name for a tripod.

6. EYEBROW

If the camera is the all-seeing eye on a film set, then it makes sense that the black “visor” placed above the lens is nicknamed the eyebrow. The eyebrow is used to help prevent any unwanted glare on the lens, which might create a flare (we’re looking at you J.J. Abrams).

7. LOCK-UPS

It is common for the 1st assistant director to yell for the PAs to get to their “lock-ups” right before a take. “Lock-ups” are strategic positions throughout the set where there is the potential for an accidental disruption. Doorways, hallways, blind corners, etc. are all guarded, or “locked up,” to prevent non-cast members from accidentally strolling into the shot or making noise.

8. HOT POINTS

Mixing heavy, expensive, and sometimes “pointy” film equipment with large crowds of focused filmmakers can be the perfect recipe for an injury. To prevent this, crew members carrying such gear into confined or crowded spaces often yell “hot points!” as a reminder for all to clear a space.

9. MOS

MOS is a term most relevant to the sound department. When a shot is MOS, it means that no audio will be recorded. For these shots, the audio will be addressed in post-production, most likely with pre-recorded sound effects or music. There are a plethora of theories as to how the term came about, but three fight to the forefront: Some argue that MOS equates to an abbreviated version of “motion omit sound” or “motor only shot,” a reference to the synchronization between film cameras and audio (as audio is recorded on a separate device). In an MOS shot, only the motor of the camera would run, hence “motor only shot.” The other, more widespread theory is explained by David Trottier in The Screenwriter’s Bible: “German director Eric von Stroheim ... would tell his crew, ‘Ve’ll shoot dis mid out sound.’ Thus MOS stands for ‘mid out sound.’”

10. MOTHER-DAUGHTER

This less-than-politically-correct term can sometimes be heard among the more jocular crew members. It refers to shooting the same action again, but with a tighter framing than the previous take. This is accomplished by either moving the camera closer or by using a different lens. You’ll have to read between the lines for how this one got its name (we’ve said enough).

11. THE ABBY SINGER SHOT

Abby Singer was a 1st assistant director and production manager who was known for informing his crew when the second-to-last shot for a particular location, or for the day, was taking place. This gave the crew time to either transport the equipment not in use to the next location, or to put it away. By doing so, he saved the crew the stress of hurrying to the next location, not to mention priceless production time that could be better spent later on. Having passed away in early 2014, Singer's legacy continues through his namesake being synonymous for the second-to-last shot of the day.

12. THE MARTINI SHOT

The crew will collectively sigh when the Martini shot is announced, as it signifies the last shot of the day. This nickname likely originates from a joke about what the following shot will be ... at the bar.

Additional Sources:
Strike the Baby and Kill the Blonde: An Insider's Guide to Film Slang, by Dave Knox
The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script, by David Trottier

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Something Something Soup Something
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      This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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      Something Something Soup Something

      Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

      That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

      Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

      The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

      You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

      [h/t Waypoint]

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