Our entertainment shapes culture, and we can see this happening with trends, fashion, and even our daily life. And since television and cinema take inspiration from real-life events, it can also be said that sometimes, real life is the one following them.
Language is no exception to this. TV shows and movies are the sources of a surprising number of new terms and idioms that, while they may have first appeared on screen as a witty punchline or a spin on a familiar theme, have turned out to be unexpectedly enduring.
Some phrases and words were first used on-screen and now they are an integral part of the English language. Here are some examples:
Today’s popular psychological term for manipulating someone in a way that makes another person doubt their sanity, gaslight or gaslighting, got its current definition from a 1944 movie of the same name.
In the movie, Ingrid Bergman plays a woman who observes things in an ancient haunted house, including gaslights that are dying on their own. Her spouse persuades her that she is insane or, more accurately, gaslights her.
"To catfish" used to mean going fishing and trying to capture some whiskered bottom-feeders. Its meaning changed after a documentary with the same name in which a man was deceived by his online love interest, who turned out to have a completely different identity. After it aired, the phrase got a whole new meaning.
This phrase is, of course, nothing new. Deals have been made and broken many times for a long time. What’s remarkable about it is that it has only recently been applied to partnerships. With its show-within-a-show "Dealbreakers!" on 30 Rock, the word became popular in this context.
We cannot say that the screen invented this one, but the famous sitcom Friends popularized the usage of Friendzone. This term refers to being stuck at staying friends with someone you are romantically interested in, rather than dating them. In the 1994 episode "The One with the Blackout." one of the main characters, Ross, is described as the "Mayor of the friend zone" because he waited too long to make a move on Rachel, his love interest in the show, and then it was too late.
This one is a little surprising. The word "Google" has been out there since the foundation of the popular search engine. But its usage as a verb made its entrance into our vocabulary in 2002. In the hit series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", the word "Google" was used as a verb. Only a few months later, the American Dialect Society named "to Google" the most useful new word of 2002.
Today, we often mark emails or content as spam, but the term “spam” was only used to describe the canned meat brand for many years. However, the meaning began to shift in 1970, thanks to a Monty Python comedy called "Spam." The spoof revolved around a restaurant where everything on the menu was related to Spam (the food). When the waitress says the word "spam," she is accompanied by a bunch of singing Vikings who chant the word "spam" repeatedly until it becomes unbearable.
The phrase began to take on a new meaning somewhere around the 1990s to describe unwelcome messages. As the internet grew, so did the volume of what we now know as spam, and the term is now part of all our vocabulary.
This word, which appears in many rap songs, was invented as a wonderful way to indicate that you're both wild and intoxicated. What is surprising is that this popular slang among rappers was first used in Late Night by Connon O’Brien. "Crunk" was initially used in a sketch on Late Night with Conan O'Brien as a "make-believe curse word so we could get the same laughs that obscenities get on television without having to deal with censors," as show writer Robert Smigel put it.