You don’t have to nearly get run over by a New York taxi to exclaim, “I’m walkin’ here!” or sign a major sports star to shout, “Show me the money!” Some of these TV and movie catchphrases are so popular, we forget that they originated on the big screen. Others are harder to understand outside of their natural cinematic contexts, especially if you haven’t seen the movie or TV show. Here's the meaning behind five classic movie and TV catchphrases.
“Houston, We Have a Problem”
This phrase can be pulled out when your plans start to fall apart — especially if the bad news needs to be delivered calmly. Moviegoers first heard this phrase in the movie Apollo 13 (1995), when astronaut Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) spoke to NASA Mission Control, located in Houston, Texas. It was a problem indeed: Apollo 13’s oxygen tank blew up when the spacecraft was 200,000 miles above Earth. Screenwriters usually take creative license when writing dialogue, but this line was based on something Lovell actually said. The original version was “We’ve had a problem here.” The screenwriter made a slight grammatical tweak to make the line more dramatic.
Shakespeare isn’t the only wordsmith who can create new phrases. “Cowabunga, dude,” came from the imagination of Howdy Doody Show writer Eddie Kean. He originally made up the word to express frustration, but like many parts of language, the word’s definition shifted. “Cowabunga!” appeared on the 1960s show Gidget, used by surfers jumping into the ocean. No wonder real-life California surfers co-opted the term and applied it to hitting the waves; the term suddenly became a way to express delight. The phrase was resurrected in entertainment again by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the ’90s.
“Where’s the Beef?”
Sometimes a catchphrase comes not from a movie or TV show, but from a commercial. (Don Draper would be so proud.) “Where’s the Beef?” comes from a popular 1984 commercial for Wendy’s. The fast-food company wanted to take a swipe at its competitors by focusing on how little meat they used in their burgers. The phrase was so popular that a presidential candidate used it that same year at the Democratic primary debate. Candidate Walter Mondale used the catchphrase to cut through Gary Hart’s lofty language about helping entrepreneurs. The query lost its literal definition and became related to a request for truth and plain speaking.
“Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner”
Ask fans of Dirty Dancing (1987) what they like about the movie and they’ll be quick to tell you: Swayze. Patrick Swayze played bad-boy dancer Johnny Castle, who couldn’t be more different from good girl Baby, played by Jennifer Grey. Baby’s strict parents stifle her and try to keep the young lovers apart, insisting she stand on the sidelines and not join Castle for the onstage dance performance. But — triumph! — Johnny tells her father, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Swayze hated the line at first — rumor has it, he didn’t even want to say it. Luckily, the director was able to change his mind and he had the time of his life.
“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose”
This motivational catchphrase comes from a more recent TV show: Friday Night Lights, which aired from 2004 to 2011. Football coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) uttered this inspirational quote in the locker room before a big game. Like any good catchphrase, it has been parodied and beloved outside of the show, including by late-night host John Oliver on his show Last Week Tonight.
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