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It’s all in the Phrase: T-Rex Roars Again

November 28th, 2006

Full Frontal PR Report
Scott J. Milne

My last article about the Generation Gap in my life stirred a bit of a hornet’s nest. I never thought we’d get any responses, but lo and behold we did, and the responses ran about 50-50 pro and anti. Since we are knee-deep in the holiday season, let’s not get all wound up this time. Take a deep breath, sip some eggnog and let me take a lighthearted look at catch-phrases.

We’ve all done it…and probably didn’t even realize we were doing it. Let’s face it: Catch-phrases are a firm a part of our vocabulary. In the 60s we said “Missed it by that much” thanks to Don Adams in Get Smart. In the 70s we said “Sit on it” and thought sweetly of Happy Days. And who could forget in the 80s, when old Clara gave us “Where’s the beef” from those Wendy’s ads that cracked us up. Last decade, you couldn’t walk around without hearing people—okay, guys—sneering “Wassss upppp?” (thanks a lot, Budweiser). And I hold out hope that today’s ubiquitous “You’re fired” will be replaced by anything during the still-alive 00s.

Catch-phrases are helpful when you’re speaking with folks who share your pop culture milieu—they help others understand what you’re getting at and with that, you share a grin. Unfortunately, with age you’re left in the cold when catch-phrases and culture references are found to be outside your audience’s experience or ability to care.

For example, at a meeting a couple of months ago we were talking to a member of the staff via speaker phone who was traveling between Europe and the U.S. When someone asked where she was now, I cut in to say, “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium.” Dead silence. I thought someone was going to grab a cell phone and order a straight jacket from Bellevue! Hadn’t everyone had heard that phrase at one time or another? Just like any joke—when you have to explain it, it’s not funny. But for the sake of my own sanity, I did explain it via e-mail and saved myself a trip to the special hospital. Live and learn?

Did you ever think you could be the one who starts the life cycle of a catch-phrase? Ok, maybe not on a national scale, but companywide? It never occurred to me. But sometimes you say something so many times that everyone else picks up on it and then the next thing you know, the whole company is saying it. As I walked past one of our AE’s desks a short time ago, I saw a neatly-printed “Top 10” posted on the wall and decided to read it.

To my amazement, I saw the phrases I use every day! The list was titled “Top 10 Milne-ism’s.” I couldn’t believe it. “Milne-ism’s!?!” What could I have possibly said that the whole company was picking up on? And wait a minute…what had he meant by “Top 10!” Were there actually more than 10?

Having read the list and stopped to laugh, I said to myself: “I guess I do use those phrases a bit.” And others in the office were starting to say them too. So today I will share some—not the whole ten because some are inside jokes and wouldn’t make any sense to you—but a few that you might find entertaining and useful:

Some of us are busier than others.
My favorite and the most used catch-phrase at RLM. When someone wants to know why they didn’t get something when they requested it from me, I throw that at them with gusto.

You’ll get nothing—and like it.
I love to toss it out to someone who is, shall we say, being a little over-needy.

Let the record show…
To be fair, I didn’t invent this one but picked it up from someone else in the office and annexed it, so to speak. (His use of it got him into some trouble, when the record—shall we say—went the other way!) Of course feel free to use this phrase when making a point about something.

That’s ok; I’ll turn the lights off.
That’s to make a point when someone leaves all the lights on in a conference room when they’re finished with a meeting. I’ll walk by, turn off the switch and utter the phrase in the vain hope that someone will listen. It hasn’t worked.

So there you go: that’s my list! In the spirit of Christmas I hope you learned something. Say something enough and it becomes a catch-phrase, hopefully catchy enough so that others pick it up. If you’re lucky, you might invent the next phrase for all of us to mutter at every turn, and, like overzealous Rudolph, “You’ll go down in his-tor-eeeee.”

Scott Milne is RLM’s resident smart aleck and the one to whom we ultimately answer.