Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2002 / 11 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Richard Lederer

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Is life a movie? We all speak their lines | Something has happened to our American language - and I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. You'll probably recognize the second part of that statement as a rip-off from the film The Wizard of Oz. Being transported out of Kansas is one of a passel of expressions from movies that have launched a thousand lips.

The very first Awards ceremony took place during a banquet held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The attendance was 250 and tickets cost $10. When the first Academy Awards were handed out on May 16, 1929, movies had just begun to talk.

I would love to have been a time traveler rushing into the Blossom Room to announce the luminous future of the Academy Awards ceremony: "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothing yet!" That's what Al Jolson said in The Jazz Singer (1927) - the mother of all talking films. Ever since, lines from the movies have shaped our hopes and dreams and aspirations and have teemed our tongues.

Richard Lederer here - and today I'm making you an offer you can't refuse, which is a version of the line in the Mario Puzo novel, The Godfather, published in 1961, and embedded in the 1972 film of the same name.

So what's up, doc? That is, of course, from Bugs Bunny's characteristic question to Elmer Fudd, who was a doctor.

What's up is that I hope never to hear from my readers, "What we have here is a failure to communicate" or "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" The first statement is the best known line from Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman, and the second is Peter Finch's agonized complaint in Network.

May you never sneer at me, "Frankly, my dear verbivore. I don't give a damn" - spoken Rhett-orically as the closing line in Gone with the Wind. But that's OK because tomorrow is another day.

Indeed, I think this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, a line delivered by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. That film also gave us "Round up the usual suspects" and "Here's looking at you, kid."

Read my words about words, and you'll go ahead, make my day - the signature statement of the Clint Eastwood character Dirty Harry in the 1983 film, Sudden Impact, a line made even more famous by President Ronald Reagan. You'll make my day because love is never having to say you're sorry, an enduring sentiment from Love Story.

Who you gonna call? - Conan the Grammarian! That's a rip-off from Ghostbusters, and, of course, it should be "whom are you going to call?" "Conan the Grammarian" is itself an allusion to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian.

Now identify the films whence came the following expressions that now inhabit our everyday conversations:

  1. They're ba-a-a-ck!
  2. If you build it, they will come.
  3. Houston - we have a problem.
  4. Life is like a box of chocolates.
  5. You talkin' to me?
  6. I coulda been a contender!
  7. Why don't you come up sometime and see me?
  8. This could be the end of civilization as we know it.
  9. May the Force be with you!
  10. Show me the money!

That's all, folks! And Hasta la vista, baby! I'm outta here - and you know where those two lines got their start Merry Melodies and Terminator T2: Judgment Day.


  1. Poltergeist 2
  2. Field of Dreams
  3. Apollo 13
  4. Forrest Gump
  5. Taxi Driver
  6. On the Waterfront
  7. She Done Him Wrong
  8. Citizen Kane
  9. Star Wars
  10. Jerry Maguire

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JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


10/03/02: Brave New Words
09/26/02: English is a Crazy Language!
09/12/02: How wise is proverbial wisdom?
09/05/02: A celebration of presidential prose
08/29/02: Food for thought
08/22/02: Jest for the pun of it
08/08/02: Hop up to the kangaroo words
08/01/02: A pouchful of synonyms
07/11/02: Poli-Tickle Speeches
06/27/02: Suppository questions
06/20/02: George Orwell is looking at you
06/06/02: Jest for the health of it
05/30/02: It is truly astonishing what havoc students can wreak on the chronicles of the human race
05/16/02: A bilingual pun is twice the fun!
05/09/02: What's in a president's name?
05/03/02: Slang as it is slung
04/25/02: Abstemious words
04/19/02: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect

© 2002, Richard Lederer