WNW: Seinfeld Speak
I don't think there's ever been a television show that has had the same social and linguistic impact on English and our culture as Seinfeld. Even though there hasn't been a new episode since 1998, it's still in reruns, and my kids enjoy it (well, most episodes . . . some they aren't allowed see . . .).
Over a decade after the finale, Seinfeld's influence lives on in big ways. Part of that is the fact that the show, which was supposedly about "nothing," was really about everyday life, so there is almost no event that you can't find a Seinfeld episode to relate it to.
Recently, my husband was talking to some coworkers and referred to something as "Seinfeld-esque."
They knew exactly what he meant: something with threads that interconnect in a complex and unexpected way, often at the end, but may have been connected early on and you didn't know it.
He didn't say all that. He just said, "Seinfeld-esque." And they knew exactly what he meant. That's the kind of impact the show had. And has.
The writing was brilliant, which is why my sisters and I had a ball on the Kramer Reality Tour in New York back in '03 (see above). Mom wasn't all that familiar with the show, so she couldn't quite appreciate references to things like:
- Festivus (complete with the aluminum pole, feats of strength, and airing of grievances)
- Vandalay Industries
- The Bubble Boy
- The Magic Loogie
- The Soup Nazi (we got to eat lunch there--and DANG his soup really is good!)
- Marble rye, big salads, and chocolate babka
- "Look to the cookie!"
- "Serenity now!"
- The Human Fund
- The Kavorka
- Ocean/The Beach cologne
- Level-jumping in friendships
- The Bro/Manziere
- George as architect/marine biologist
- Calling someone "breathtaking"
- "I choose not to run."
- An unusual "hole in one"
- "These pretzels are making me thirsty."
- "Can you spare a square?"
I could go on forever. The show was full of gems, and each one listed above refers to an episode that makes me snicker. True fans will recognize every one of those, I'm betting. (And could add many more to it.)
From a Word Nerd standpoint, here's the fascinating part for me:
Even people who say they don't know the show are still familiar with many catch phrases from it.
I had a friend who, during the height of the show's popularity, had never seen a single episode. Yet I caught her using phrases from the show. She didn't even know she was doing it, of course, because she'd never seen it. But the phrases had worked themselves into the culture.
Sometimes Seinfeld coined the phrases. Sometimes the show used already existing phrases, and suddenly everyone was using them because of the episodes that made them famous.
Here's a few:
Yada, yada, yada
This way of getting to the point, skipping over either a boring or secret part of the story, came from a Seinfeld episode where one of George's girlfriend skipped over things like, oh, her shoplifting habit.
I'm guessing (but I'm not sure) that people used this term before the episode where George is at a funeral and redips his potato chip in the dip and promptly gets chewed out by a family member of the deceased. The scene became so memorable that the phrase promptly became a popular part of the lexicon.
An entire episode was built around the concept of whether it's okay to regift, and if so, then can't you also degift?
You know this one: the type of handshake where the other person grabs your hand with both of theirs in a hand sandwich. Annoying.
High talker/Low talker/Close talker
These are all types of speakers who make it difficult to hear what they're saying to you. High talkers have voices with pitches so high they're hard to make out. Low talkers speak quietly. Jerry really could have used a volume control on the low talker so he could hear her request and not end up wearing that hideous puffy shirt on the Today Show. A close talker is a person who has no clue on personal body space.
A combination of the terms "male" and "bimbo." Therefore, a male bimbo.
A long period where someone's managed to not vomit, such as a good decade or more.
An annoying term of endearment between a boyfriend and girlfriend that drives others nuts.
I'm sure others used this term before the show, but it exploded after Seinfeld.
This is sort of the inner voice in your head, your conscience telling you what to do. The voice you should listen to. The one Jerry rarely listens to, of course.
A version of the concept of "having the upper hand." If you "have hand" then you've got the upper hand in a relationship. If you've given up your superior position, you've "lost hand."
What they tried to do to Jerry's car after a valet driver with beyond BO drove it. Didn't work, unfortunately. It smelled so bad that Jerry tried to let his car be stolen, and even the thieves wouldn't take it.
The Second Button
The series begins and ends with a debate on the location of the second button of a shirt, and how that location makes or breaks the entire shirt. Too high, and it's awkward, too low, and it ruins the look. Scary thing? They're kinda right on that.
We learn about Relationship George and Independent George and how his two worlds cannot mix without Independent George vanishing for good. We've all experienced those bizarre moments where our worlds collide, whether it's high school self and current-day self or work-self and church self.
I'm sure my readers can come up with more.
I read blog posts or hear stories throughout my days, and it's a rare week where I don't come across something that reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. That's how good the show was at understanding humanity and daily life. (It's also evidence that I've watched a few too many episodes . . .)
Recently on a friend's Facebook status, she was having a bad day and wrote, "Serenity now!"
I laughed and responded with, "What you need is a Festivus miracle."
A good chunk of her friends began adding their own Seinfeld references, knowing immediately what she meant. They were all referring to a show that's been off the air for over decade. You can't tell me that's not significant.
A couple of weeks ago on WNW, I mentioned Catch-22. The author, Joseph Heller, managed to get a single word into the lexicon, and it's stuck for nearly fifty years now. I consider that a huge accomplishment.
Yet Jerry Seinfeld and his show got dozens of words and catch phrases into our language. Whether they'll all still be here in fifty years, I don't know. But we're coming on twelve years now, and so far, so good. How did they do that, and what does it mean about their show and our society?
I'm sure someone has studied it, but all I can say is WOW. For our family, one thing it means is that we still TiVo the reruns.
"Seinfeld . . . four!"